Dick Wellstood: neglected master of stride and beyond

March 17, 2012 at 6:22 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, Sheer joy, Soul, whisky)

As regulars here will know, I occasionally take a break from light-hearted political banter and introduce the serious matter of jazz. It’s particularly gratifying when one of my jazz posts elicits a response from someone with an intimate knowledge of, or direct connection with, the subject. This happened a little while ago when one Emily Wellstood Clarke got in touch to say how much she’d appreciated a post and Youtube clip here at Shiraz, featuring her late dad, the pianist Dick Wellstood. In a number of exchanges, on and off this blog, Emily told me about her memories of her Dad: very moving stuff, some of which I’d love to publish but would, of course only do so with her express permission. I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences, however, when I quote this from Emily: “My favorite Youtube video is Germany 1982…..he was as I will always remember him. He was on top of his game but the best part is I can hear him humming! He used to whistle and hum at the same time. I thought that was endlessly entertaining when I was a child.”  So here it is (The film is a bit flickery but the sound is fine and Wellstood himself is on great form, seguing  from a brief ‘Perdido’ into ‘Caravan’ in what was, presumably, an Ellington medley):

While we’re at it, here’s what Wellstood’s longstanding musical and personal buddy Marty (son of George) Grosz, wrote about him:

“As a seventeen year old tyro Dick would pass out printed cards which read “Will somebody please introduce me to Joe Sullivan.” The flavour of the great Chicagoan’s style [ie the older pianist Joe Sullivan’s style -JD], its pugnacity, its spiky sentimentality, its barrelhouse bass lines, permeated Dick’s inventions throughout his life. Dick’s impovisations gave scant succour to the sleep deprived, unlike those of many of his contemporaries. He resisted the smoothing process that has relegated much contemporary jazz to the role of background music at cocktail parties and dentists’ offices. As they age, many players lose the heat and incisiveness of their early years, settling for bland moderation where once passionate risk held sway; but Dick’s intelligence and sense of adventure precluded his sliding into comfortable banality. Though an intellectual sophisticate, he evinced the sqeaking of saloon doors, the redolence of whisky and cigars, the swish of dancers’ feet in his renditions – renditions expounded with plenty of (to use one of his catchprases), ‘grease and funk.’

…”It is to the discredit of several authors and critics (names supplied upon request) that they have either glossed over or ignored Dick Wellstood. While shouting the praises of trendy lightweights they have chosen to ignore this master, presumably because he followed his own course and wouldn’t cut his jib to fit the prevailing winds of fashion. It is to be hoped that the issuance of this recital and other Wellstood offerings will help redress these inequities and will work towards according him his rightful place in the pantheon of great jazz pianists.”Marty Grosz, February 1997  [from his notes to ‘Live at the Sticky Wicket’, Arbors double CD ARCD19188]

4 Comments

  1. lost said,

    wow!that dick wellstood video is fantastic-so exuberant.my heart and spirit lifted.i laughed with joy.and the singing and humming-he just seems so connected and there,in and with the music.

    whilst it might be very different i think chick corea and keith jarrett both hum and sing along with their laying and into the piano on some of their pieces.i think i recall jarrett sighing into the piano and baning on the piano as well as playing notes in some of his performances/and recordings…….

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Glad you enjoyed that Wellstood clip, lost. I should also have thanked Emily for bringing it to my attention – there’s so much stuff on Youtube that it’s easy to overlook these little gems.

    On the subject of pianists who make noises while playing, the Wikipedia entry for Keith Jarrett notes:

    “One of Jarrett’s trademarks is his frequent, loud vocalizations (grunting, squealing, and tuneless singing), similar to that of Glenn Gould, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Ralph Sutton, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Paul Asaro, and Cecil Taylor.”

  3. Emily Wellstood said,

    That is one of my favorite videos for sure. I love to hear him humming!

    Jim, I can’t thank-you enough for your kindness in sending me those CDs. I really enjoy them. Thank-You so much for going out of your way for me…….
    I am very grateful! =)

  4. Jim Denham said,

    It was a pleasure, Emily, both to hear from you and have been able to draw attention to Wellstood’s marvellous talent by posting that great Youtube clip from Germany.

    I strongly agree with Marty Grosz: “…”It is to the discredit of several authors and critics (names supplied upon request) that they have either glossed over or ignored Dick Wellstood. While shouting the praises of trendy lightweights they have chosen to ignore this master, presumably because he followed his own course and wouldn’t cut his jib to fit the prevailing winds of fashion.”

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