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A Pair Of Kings by Ralph Sutton & Johnny Varro

This new release by Arbors Jazz is one of the finest stride piano sessions I've heard in recent years. The two "stride giants" are presented in duet and solo forms accompanied by a pair of great rhythm men.

A dozen superb tracks showcase the pianists performing the works of Fats Waller, Louis Armstong, W.C.Handy, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, James Hanley and others in a presentation best described as "fireworks." Ralph Sutton, now seventy-nine years young, is like a fine wine and just continues to get better over time. The younger player, Johnny Varro, is exciting and not to be outdone by the elder statesman of "stride." Add the articulate bass of Phil Flanigan and the smokin' drums of Ed Metz Jr. and the resulting quartet is hard to beat.

Never one to skimp on liner notes, Arbors Jazz recruited Gunnar Jacobson to provide measure by measure descriptions of each piece. The current president of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors (IAJRC) is exceedingly adept at documenting each chorus right down to the key changes and drum tags. The listener is never left guessing. A fine writer, Jacobsen is presently in the final stages of a detailed discography of pianist Dave McKenna, a prolific recorder.

Neither soloist requires an introduction to seasoned jazz buffs but for the benefit of new listeners, Ralph Sutton is a veteran of the bands of Jack Teagarden and Eddie Condon. In later years he was a founding member of The World's Greatest Jazz Band and toured with them in the 70s. A practitioner of "Harlem stride", Sutton has recorded in the USA, Canada and Europe. Johnny Varro is New York born and succeeded Ralph Sutton in the Condon band. Varro's association with such legends as Henry Red Allen, Phil Napoleon and Jo Jones is well known. He also toured with the very successful "Dukes of Dixieland" for a few years.

Together, the two pianists provide both the sizzle and the steak. Having listened to both players over the years, I frankly have great difficulty picking which is playing any given chorus and must refer to the liner notes. Ralph Sutton's "golden" left hand is not always the clue to accurate identification. However, his sense of humor is always a dead give-away. At one point, Sutton throws in a phrase from the bop standard "Salt Peanuts" and gets a response from Ed Metz in the form of an equally funny and hokey drum break.

You can check out the titles on the Arbors website and I won't list them here. Rest assured that this is top quality and deserves your attention if you love Harlem piano.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ralph Sutton & Johnny Varro
  • CD Title: A Pair Of Kings
  • Genre: Traditional / New Orleans
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Arbors Jazz
  • Musicians: Ralph Sutton (piano); Johnny Varro (piano); Phil Flanigan (bass); Ed Metz Jr. (drums).
  • Rating: Five Stars
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