P>Stride piano was once the rage with such giants as James P. Johnson, Willie "the Lion" Smith, Duke Ellington and reaching its zenith in the hands of Fats Waller. Perhaps the best known proponents of this style among the current crop of pianists are Ralph Sutton and Judy Carmichael. Now comes Henry thins Francis with a CD combining two previously issued LPs and unreleased material. Francis is the leader of The Swing Legacy, a six-piece band working out of the New England area.
The left hand bass playing is essential to the structure, harmony and rhythm of this jazz piano genre. As Francis says in the liner notes, playing stride "dictates that both hands earn a living". Like ragtime upon which it was based, stride lost its prominence but not before influencing such greats as Art Tatum. The play list discloses Francis' affinity for Waller, and why not, with about a third of the program comprised of items from that bigger than life entertainer (with Ellington's works not far behind). In addition to familiar Waller, there are a couple of his lesser known pieces like "Up Jumped You" with "Lounging at the Waldorf". Francis does one of the gems of stride piano, "Jitterbug Waltz", more quietly than one normally hears it, allowing the listener to get a greater appreciation for the melody. To his credit, Francis understands that over an hour's worth of stride can become a bit wearing unless you're Waller. So the program includes some lush rendering of romantic ballads like "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Azure" both by Ellington.
This CD is a welcome addition to current stride piano literature. It is available through the net from amazon.com and directly from Mephistopheles Records.