© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Bill Crow - bassist, author and all-round good guy, has a rule-to-live-by, one which he stresses over-and-over again, and it is that - “Jazz is supposed to be fun.”
To my ears, no one better exemplifies this approach to Jazz than does pianist Roger Kellaway.
But please don’t misunderstand this to mean that Roger isn’t serious about his music or that he is in any way belittling Jazz.
Roger’s music is full of joy, happiness and unexpected adventure and, as such, is full of the fun of finding new wonders in Jazz. Listening to Roger play is like being let into the funhouse at the amusement park. For Roger, as for Bill Crow, Jazz is fun. That’s the point of the whole thing.
The first time I heard Roger Kellaway with Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer’s quintet [talk about two guys who knew how to have fun with Jazz], I burst out laughing. It was the laughter of delight based on the thrill and disbelief of what I’d just heard him play.
Whenever Roger soloed during this first hearing, it was the musical equivalent of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” - Walt Disney’s famous cartoon adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind and The Willows.
Roger was all over the place: dense bop lines followed by stride piano licks; dissonance followed by melodically beautiful phrases; propulsive rumbling out of the lower register that led to cat-running-along-the-piano-keys tinkling in the high notes.
Not surprisingly, given his predisposition to stride, Roger made an LP for World Pacific Jazz … wait for it … Stride! [WP-1861].
John William Hardy wrote these informative liner notes for the recording.
“When pianist Roger Kellaway made his playing debut on records about three years ago [1963 A Jazz Portrait of Roger Kellway, Regina Records reissued as Fresh Sound CD 147] , it was, to say the least, an awe-inspiring event. For like no artist in the history of jazz, this man Kellaway had a deep and personally abiding ability to play, not only in a uniquely modern way, but in a driving two-handed stride piano style. Beyond that, he showed a familiarity with the compositional roots of traditional and modern jazz that allowed him on the same album to invoke the stride and in an obscure Sidney Bechet ditty called Broken Windmill, to deal out a gang of highly original originals in the beyond Bill Evans bag. It is completely safe to say that the world had never before encountered a pianist like Roger Kellaway. He is one of a handful of the most original modern improvisors, and he is one of the best stride pianists in the history of that interesting and difficult style. This album is built around Roger's love for the older facets of his musical personality, and for the kind of happy, carefree melody that seems to lay best with the striding medium-tempo feel. To top things off, the album offers us Kellaway's debut as a conductor and arranger. He has provided simple, uncluttered, but highly effective arrangements to augment the sound of the piano, bass and drums.
The music, as you will hear, has historical importance and contemporary value that should be assessed. So, like, what is stride piano and where does it fit in the history of jazz? Stride piano grew out of ragtime. Jelly Roll Morton was a ragtimer but only occasionally showed evidences of stride methods. Some of the later ragtime pianists, who had been largely followers of Morton in their earlier formative years, became the most prominent stride players.
Contrasting stride to ragtime, one may note the greater independence of the rhythmic left hand and the largely melodic right hand (ragtime found the two hands working in unison both rhythmic and melodic). Also, stride, as contrasted to ragtime, revealed greater rhythmic flexibility and a tendency for linear improvisation in the right hand while the left hand maintained the rhythmic drive playing a single note on the first and third beats and a chord on the second and fourth. While this is the basic form of the style, no stride pianist worth his salt ever held rigidly in that pattern but found infinite variation of the roles of his hands and the general feel of the music. Friends, I'd be more than happy to tell you that Roger Kellaway was a natural outgrowth of his vast experience with all the old striders... if it were true. "We could," says Kellaway, "get all involved in historical data that would nicely lead to such a conclusion, but it would be a pack of lies. I play stride piano because I want to play all of the piano and because this is a way of exploring the instrument that no other pianistic form will allow. Actually, in developing my abilities in stride, I began with listening to only a smattering of old Waller records to get the basic idea of it. Since then, I've relied totally upon my personal development of the style — plus my love for and interest in older forms of jazz in the most general way. Specifically, I like looking for older compositions of worth and beauty to which I can address myself in the older stride style, tunes like Lazysippi Steamer Going Home."
Kellaway continues: "Stride piano is happy piano and that feeling, plus the method itself, was the original basis for this album. We've tried to retain the feeling but we've diverged somewhat in the end result in the method. Stride still pervades most of my playing and when I do diverge from it as In Your Own Sweet Way, or a couple of other places. I still try to keep the same feeling and simple charm of the playing
I like contrasts in my playing —in fact, you can say that in any performance I give-any tune —I hope there'll be at least two quite diametrically opposed feelings involved. But in transition from one to the other, even within a few minutes as in these tunes, I've tried to remain as graceful and natural as possible. Eclecticism is fine, but when an eclectic such as I chooses to incorporate various styles from many eras into his work, he can truly speak of developing an original style from these parts only if he is successful in achieving the blend.”
As for the selections: Side One begins with the top 40's Sunny. That, in itself," says Roger, "was not the reason for playing it. It's a beautiful song. I've really looked forward to recording it for some time. Just like I fell for a couple of Beatle tunes that I've recorded. Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here! is from "On A Clear Day," the Broadway musical. Again a song I've wanted to do for some time. In fact, I recorded the original demo records of it for Lerner and Burton in New York. Lazysippi Steamer is an old Louis Armstrong tune that is one of the prettiest songs I've ever heard. I never play it without getting a great feeling inside, and I try to play it on every gig. It's become one of my most requested tunes. I never fail to announce its origin. It's beautiful, but I'm afraid a little puzzling to some people to know that you can find such great material in the jazz archives that is just aching to be played now. Porkette, My Love is light-hearted, but sad. Porkette was —darn it —a pet Guinea Pig that died. This is In Memoriam. Cherry is the Dizzy tune that Mulligan and Chet Baker did earlier on Pacific Jazz. This one illustrates what I meant about two moods, in the things I do.
Side Two begins with Cabaret from the musical of the same name. This is a... a fun tune. I superimposed the stride over the strings in the first chorus. The second chorus gets more sophisticated and then we move to a humorous ending. Ain't Misbehavin' is pure stride material of course, and one of Waller's favorites. This is one of the first tunes I ever played professionally— 13 years ago. Shows you how long I've been into this thing. In Your Own Sweet Way is probably Dave Brubeck's most famous composition and one that is performed by almost all jazz players. This is our most serious divergence from the general feel of the album. Dick Bock [owner of World Pacific Records] suggested it abruptly just to see what I would do with it in a spontaneous situation. To My Way Of Thinking incorporates more than one mood again, but in a more complex interrelationship. It incorporates the prepared piano and uses the time signatures of 3/4, 5/4 and 4/4. It is the most sophisticated and important piece in the album, from the standpoint of my own development."
Throughout all of this album, Roger Kellaway plays like a long lost legend of the stride piano, composes and arranges and even conducts like the fresh and markedly humorous young artist, with an understanding and respect for the past, that he is. He provides us with a musical sum total that won't let our minds wander or our feet keep still. Surely, that is what most of this music is supposed to be about.”
You can sample Roger’s stride stylings on the following video which features him playing Pops’ Lazysippi Steamer Going Home.