Friday, October 17, 2008

Clarence Williams - Sugar Blues

Available on EMusic, Amazon, and iTunes.

You might dismiss this as "mood music" ("Cosmo, mood music please!") but I beg to differ. I played this at the WCLX Saturday night late-night and people seemed to dig it and dance to it--I had several people come up to me to ask about what the title is.

Sure, it's certainly a "stretch" track, not something you play for a room full of beginners. To my ear it is both bluesy and janky, but it might take a more experienced dancer to be able to play with those elements. Another way I might describe it is that it's got a nice stroll to it. It's got a strong beat, even though it's just a solo piano, and it has lots of rhythmic character. (I guess that's the nerdy way of saying, it's playful--listen to the left-hand rolls around 2:35, kind of sounds like an elephant stomping around). I've used it as a cool-down track after an uptempo Charleston number, when I want to keep that feel going. Some dancers blues to it, some do a sort of slow Charleston, some swing out.

So what is it? If you follow one of the links, you'll see that it is actually a piano roll--as in, an automatic player piano--not a recording of a live musician. It was made by Clarence Williams, a jazz virtuoso whose heyday was in the 1920's. (I'm not really sure how piano rolls were created, whether there was a machine that could record every key press on a piano, or whether they punched the holes by hand to get it to sound just like a live performance.) Listen to this track and imagine yourself at a rent party or a bar somewhere in Harlem where the music was provided just by a stride piano player--people used to dance to stuff just like this!

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