February 9, 2018- Today's Harlem Topic: Harlem Stride Piano
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Harlem Stride Piano is a jazz piano style that developed in Eastern cities of the U.S. most notably in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance.
Harlem stride is a solo piano style that uses percussive, left hand figures, to create a complex, swinging four beat pulse by striding up and down the keyboard alternating low bass notes with mid-range chords while the right hand plays melodies and melodic embellishments.
The father of stride style piano is James P. Johnson who stylistically came out of ragtime and developed his own unique approach. Informal competitions were common in Harlem at this time and Johnson is said to have won more contests than anyone else. His speed and dexterity became legendary among fellow pianists and he was one of the first to perfect and orchestral approach to jazz piano playing.
Willie "The Lion" Smith was another highly influential pioneer of the stride piano style.
Although not as famous as Waller or Johnson he was widely admired by his peers. Duke Ellington once said, "Willie 'The Lion' was the greatest influence of all the great jazz piano players who have come along. He has a beat that stays in the mind."
The most famous among the Big 3 of Harlem Stride masters was Thomas "Fats" Waller. In the beginning Fats was a student of James P. Johnson soon mastering the style and innovating new approaches which helped lay the groundwork for modern jazz piano.
Other notable stride players of the Harlem Renaissance era included Donald Lambert, Lucky Roberts and Claude Hopkins.