: What's a 70-year-old white guy in 1990s upscale California doing with 1920s Harlem rent-party stride piano? Answer
: Playing the hell out of it. Sutton was only 7 when Fats wrote "Honeysuckle Rose," but sounds like he was anointed in the Reverend Waller's Abyssinian Baptist Church. After a long, out- of-tempo intro, Sutton settles into a loping 4/4 to quote from "At the Codfish Ball." Did lowdown Ralph in highfalutin Berkeley feel like a fish out of water? No matter. Soon hitting his stride, Sutton double-times it to the finish line with such wit and wallop as did Waller wallow. Wow!
On its face, the unsung lyric seems pedestrian: another loser pining for a bygone lover. But when you realize it was written in the middle of World War II, this ballad acquires special pathos. The sweetheart left "in my lonely world over here" isn't a jilted whiner, but a partner in noble sacrifice. Twenty-year-old Ellis Larkins, graduate of Peabody Conservatory and Juilliard, was a professional musician, not a soldier. Yet the way he caresses this song half a century hence convinces us he never forgot what it meant during his youth, when spring sprung late for millions, and not at all for far, far too many others.
Experience counts. By the time of his Maybeck recital, 73-year-old Hank Jones had been recording an incredible 47 years, backing instrumentalists from Hot Lips Page to Miles Davis and singing stars from Lena Horne to Ella Fitzgerald. Here he assays a 1932 ditty also known as "The Blue Pajama Song" because the would-be Lothario who sings it has prematurely invested in such attire, only to discover the object of his affections is married! Invoking James P. Johnson's stride style, Jones exemplifies the lilting impeccability that made him a musicians' musician, and the gentlemanly humor that forever commends him to listeners.
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