Duke Ellington once commented that he learned his craft in an era when piano players required both hands. The tongue-in-cheek remark held more than an inkling of truth. The giants of "stride", Willie "The Lion" Smith, Earl Hines, James P.Johnson, Art Tatum, Eubie Blake and Fats Waller have all left this world.
Thankfully, their art did not die with them but was carried forward by the likes of Ralph Sutton, Dick Wellstood and pianist Joe Turner who passed on in recent years. The present generation of "two-fisted" players includes Dick Hyman, John Sheridan, Butch Thompson and youngsters
Andy Fielding and Mark Shane.
Mark Shane is known for his recent recordings with singer Terry Blaine and their musical partnership has churned out some impressive examples of classic jazz. Shane has performed with many jazz legends including Benny Goodman, Wild Bill Davison, Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson plus contemporary players Ken Peplowski, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache Jr., and Bob Wilber. He was house pianist at the famed Eddie Condon’s
jazz club for a lengthy period.
The new release, Riffles
is a solo performance recorded at "The Clubhouse" in Rhineback, NY by bassist/engineer Tom Desisto. The selections performed on this disk offer a fine blend of Mark Shane compositions and, with the exception of Irving Berlin, the works of some less-known songwriters. One of the highlights, in my humble opinion, is Morning, Noon and Night
penned by Louis Alter and Arthur Swanstrom in 1933. The piece is an absolute gem and is seldom, if ever, heard today. A couple of pieces written by the recently deceased Benny Carter appear in the form of Once Upon a Time
and the lovely Blue Interlude
. The pianist treats Carter’s compositions with obvious respect and admiration.
While you won’t hear any compositions by the great stride players, you’ll find their influence is abundantly packaged in Mark Shane’s style. Whozatta
is certainly a tribute to Fats Waller. Like the late Joe Sullivan, a Condonite, who composed Fido’s Fantasy
while watching a sleeping dog, Mark Shane includes tunes penned for his own pets. Lui Leaps
honors his dog and the infectious Along Came Shmedrick
commemorates the feline in Shane’s life.
The preservation of the stride piano style is perfectly safe in the creative hands of Mark Shane and this album is highly recommended listening. If you can’t find Riffles
in your record-shop, you can email Mark Shane
and he’ll make sure you get a copy.