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Album Review

Richard Nixon & Spiro Agnew: Dick & Spiro Play Duke & Billy

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Richard Nixon & Spiro Agnew: Dick & Spiro Play Duke & Billy
Anyone who has read much history probably knows that President Richard Nixon once serenaded ex-President Harry Truman during a White House visit by playing "Missouri Waltz" on the piano in his honor (he was unaware that Truman hated the song). But history buffs may overlook that Nixon's Vice President, Spiro Agnew also played piano and was brave enough to play some of his favorite Duke Ellington tunes during the 1969 White House seventieth birthday party for the composer, as mentioned in Doug Ramsey's liner notes to the CD issued by Blue Note. While Agnew's songs weren't recorded that night, a White House staffer suggested that Nixon and Agnew record some Ellington and Billy Strayhorn works as a piano duo for fun.

One Sunday afternoon in 1970, a second Steinway grand piano was brought into the White House East Room and a few hours was devoted to recording the two men. The funny thing is that they pull it off, for the most part. The ballads are obvious highlights, especially the dreamy settings of "Mood Indigo" and "Prelude To A Kiss." The flag-waver "Rockin' In Rhythm" was a natural choice, given the public patriotic declarations by the two men at every opportunity. The spirited treatment of "Drop Me Off In Harlem" features Nixon's best improvising, with Agnew providing strong support. Each pianist has a solo feature as well. Agnew delivers a romping take of "Johnny Come Lately," while Nixon offers a rhapsodic interpretation of "In A Sentimental Mood." Perhaps the most daring choice was the inclusion of "Tonk," a favorite duo piano feature for Ellington and Strayhorn, though Nixon's overzealousness finds him rushing the tempo a bit and hitting a few clams.

If there ever were any plans to commercially issue this session, they fell apart with the disgraceful manner in which both Nixon and Agnew left office.

Track Listing

Rockin’ In Rhythm; Mood Indigo; Drop Me Off In Harlem; Prelude To A Kiss; Johnny Come Lately; In A Sentimental Mood; Tonk.

Personnel

Richard Nixon: piano; Spiro Agnew: piano.

Album information

Title: Dick & Spiro Play Duke & Billy | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: April 1

Gotcha! April Fools!


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