Originally a double LP, this CD reissue captures Dick Wellstood in a live performance at Hanratty's, once, but no longer, one of the prime venues to hear jazz piano. Wellstood is in terrific form here. One of the foremost stride pianists, he's in the same league with Luckey Roberts, Willie "The Lion" Smith and James P. Johnson. His dazzling ornamental runs and arpeggios and advance harmonics and overall virtuosity stand up well with Art Tatum's. Wellstood served his apprenticeship with some of the greats of jazz , among them Sidney Bechet, Bob Wilber and Roy Eldridge. He then took time out in the 1950's to become a lawyer, but never practiced seriously until the 1980's.
While Wellstood clearly preferred stride presumably because of the many creative options it offered - -for example, stride pianists were known for their command of the classical repertory. Typically stride players also tended to play fast and to bedazzle their listeners with their speed. But Wellstood was equally comfortable with playing slow and pretty. "My Shining Hour" and "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody "fall nicely into that category. But the up tempo stride was his forte. Based on ragtime patterns played by the left hand, stride typically called for fast tempos and required full use of the piano's range, no matter what tune the pianist was performing. Thus, Wellstood plays the usually sedate Cole Porter "So in Love" at horse race speed. Continuing to surprise, "Runnin' Wild" is done at a comparatively slow pace, almost like a ballad. One forte of the stride pianists was the ability to put together clever song medleys. Wellstood is no exception as he has fun with such mergers as Cole Porter's "Looking at You" with the slightly risque "You've Been a Good Ole Wagon". He also used the medley device to honor his mentor, Sidney Bechet, with a twosome of Bechet's "Georgia Cabin" and "Ghost of the Blues".
Kudos to Chiaroscuro for reissuing this gem. The record company also is to be congratulated for including Dan Morgenstern's knowledgeable original liner notes. With more than 70 minutes of music, Chiaroscuro continues its policy of providing artistic and economic value for your money. Live at Hanratty's is very much recommended.