Dick Hyman, Just You Just Me

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

In American jazz, a strong argument can be made for stride piano being the most difficult idiom to perform well. The style was expanded from ragtime by geniuses like James P. Johnson and Fats Waller and developed over endless late-night cutting contests by the piano's finest East Coast professors. Stride requires two strong (and large) hands, ten dexterous fingers and the ability to juggle three or four separate threads of logic simultaneously.

Two jazz vets show you stride piano done right.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the form had fallen to near extinction (probably because of its technical demands). On Just You Just Me, two of the last of the giants, Dick Hyman and Ralph Sutton (who died shortly after the recording), offer an 11-tune primer on the art of stride piano. Hyman and Sutton unfailingly manage to keep 20 hyperactive digits from entangling. Their playing is elegant, funny, virtuosic, swinging and flawlessly executed.

The music is strongest when it stays closest to the source. Sutton is essentially a pure stride player; Hyman is more versatile and thus prone to extending the material. Although the exercises in slightly more modern material are highly enjoyable and fascinating, it's “Viper's Drag,” “I'm Crazy ‘Bout My Baby” and especially a straight stride reading of “Just You Just Me” that stand out.

Stride piano has gotten a bad break in recent decades. It's been bowdlerized and mimicked by pianists who strive for “historic” legitimacy but lack the technique and polish to articulate the style successfully. If you're curious about what stride sounds like done right, download Just You Just Me. It's the genuine article from start to finish.