b. Ralph Earl Sutton, 4 November 1922, Hamburg, Missouri, USA, d. 30 December 2001, Evergreen, Colorado, USA. After playing piano locally for several years, Sutton left NE Missouri State University to join Jack Teagarden in 1941. After a spell of national service Sutton went to St. Louis, where he attracted widespread attention thanks to his participation in a series of radio shows hosted by jazz writer Rudi Blesh. From the late 40s through to the mid-50s he played regularly at Eddie Condon’s club in Greenwich Village, New York, and also took part in the guitarist’s radio and television shows. By 1956 Sutton had relocated to San Francisco, where he played in Bob Scobey’s dixieland band and recorded several albums. In the 60s Sutton worked mostly as a single, but also played in a number of traditional bands and towards the end of the decade was a founder member of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band. Thereafter, Sutton’s star rose and remained in the ascendancy with a series of record albums and world tours, solo and in a variety of settings. His musical partners in these ventures included Ruby Braff, Jay McShann, Kenny Davern and Peanuts Hucko. He continued to perform with great panache and a seemingly undiminished level of invention into the late 90s.
An outstanding pianist in the great tradition of stride giants such as James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, Sutton’s style was both forceful and lightly dancing, as the needs of his repertoire demanded. Although drawing from the century-old tradition of jazz piano, from ragtime through the blues to Harlem stride, Sutton brought to his playing such inventive enthusiasm that everything he performed seemed freshly minted.