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Wondrous Piano - The Private Family Recordings, 1961

Ralph Sutton

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Album Review

Those familiar with the playing of Ralph Sutton will know just what to expect here: lots of good, rollicking stride and swing piano artistry that manages somehow to balance elegance with good-time barrelhouse abandon and create a sound that is simultaneously sophisticated and simple in its attractiveness. Unfortunately, those familiar with some of the rather dodgy recordings he made in the mid-'70s will also hear something familiar in the lousy sound quality of this one. In this case, though, the poor production is excusable: these tapes were made at a Marin County restaurant and bar where Sutton had been invited to come play a set on a Sunday evening in 1961. Joined by drummer Hugh Cregg, he churned out a charming set before a very small audience, and his brother-in-law, Hal Curtis, was there to record it — not for commercial release, but just for private archival purposes. Since the tapes were never intended for the marketplace, little was done to improve on their strictly documentary sound quality; they are released here in part because the playing they document was so exquisite, and in part to benefit a charitable fund established in Sutton's memory after his death. The program runs from predictable favorites ("I Ain't Got Nobody," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," "'S Wonderful") to more obscure but no less attractive fare ("Alligator Crawl," "Eccentric (That Eccentric Rag)"), and there really is not a moment on the album that is less than delightful. Better sound would make this an essential purchase for any lover of jazz piano; as it is, it should only be considered truly essential for Sutton's many fans.


Born: 04 November 1922 in Hamburg, MO

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '80s

Ralph Sutton was the greatest stride pianist to emerge since World War II, with his only close competitors being the late Dick Wellstood and the very versatile Dick Hyman. Nearly alone in his generation, Sutton kept alive the piano styles of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, not as mere museum pieces but as devices for exciting improvisations. Although sticking within the boundaries of his predecessors, Sutton infused the music with his own personality; few could match his powerful left hand. Ralph...
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Wondrous Piano - The Private Family Recordings, 1961, Ralph Sutton
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