stride piano

Watching the BBC Four documentary about Mrs.Mills, ‘The Queen of the Ivories’ as Eric Morecambe once dubbed her, it was great to see footage of one of the true giants of stride piano.

Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith (1897-1973) carried on the tradition of playing the piano in a vamping style that, as the documentary pointed out, has all but died out.

‘The Lion’ made a duet record, which sadly I no longer have, with another stride piano great from a slightly earlier era – Luckey Roberts (1887-1968).

This purchase along with several other jazz recordings still in my collection came from watching Jean Bach’s Oscar-nominated 1995 documentary ‘A Great Day In Harlem.’

It tells the story behind Art Kane’s famous photograph taken in 1958, which featured a gathering of New York jazz musicians for ‘Esquire’ magazine.

The stride piano sequence in the film featuring both Smith and Roberts is fantastic, but you’ll have to visit the website below to find out why ‘The Lion’ didn’t feature in the photograph despite attending the shoot.

If you can get hold of a copy, I would highly recommend seeing ‘A Great Day In Harlem,’ especially if you have any interest in jazz.

The programme about Mrs.Mills, real name Gladys Jordan (1918-1978), was very entertaining, and though I’m not at all convinced of her place alongside the stride piano greats, she sure could play.

Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith – Carolina Shout

Luckey Roberts – Railroad Blues

Let’s Have A Party! The Piano Genius Of Mrs.Mills

A Great Day In Harlem – offical website

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