Four Hands Jazz Piano Duo Concert – Ain’t Love Grand?
– by Lee Greene
Ain’t love grand? Well, it certainly is when the couple are both virtuoso pianists, and they’re sharing a single grand piano, as the audience discovered at Siskiyou Music Project’s September 16 concert at The Artistic Piano Gallery in Medford featuring the Four Hands Jazz Piano Duo, whose four hands belong to married pianists, Stephani Trick & Paulo Alderighi.
Stephani Trick hails from St. Louis, Missouri and began playing piano at the age of five. At the age of ten, her piano teacher introduced her to ragtime, beginning a long, fruitful, triumphant fascination with jazz piano, especially Harlem stride and boogie-woogie.
“stride is a jazz piano style that was developed in the large cities of the East Coast, mainly New York, during the 1920s and 1930s. The left hand characteristically plays a four-beat pulse with a single bass note, octave, seventh or tenth interval on the first and third beats, and a chord on the second and fourth beats. Occasionally this pattern is reversed by placing the chord on the downbeat and bass note(s) on the upbeat. Unlike earlier “St. Louis”-style pianists, stride players’ left hands often leapt greater distances on the keyboard [hence, stride], and they played in a wider range of tempos and with a greater emphasis on improvisation.” [Wikipedia, Stride (music), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stride_%28music%29]
By the time she graduated from the University of Chicago (in Music, with honors, of course), she had already released three commercial jazz piano CD recordings (Piano Tricks 2005; Ragtime Tricks 2006; and Hear That Rhythm! 2008) with a live album soon to follow (Stephanie Trick LIVE 2010). At a relatively young age, she more or less single-handedly revived popular interest in stride music. [There’s a long list of written pieces that demonstrate the point, see http://stephanietrick.com/reviews.htm, but to pick one, try Bill Peters, Great Strides at the Piano: Stephanie Trick re-ignites interest in Ragtime, Stride and Jazz Piano, http://stephanietrick.com/peters-review.pdf] Trick’s skill, and her enthusiasm and fascination with stride, boogie woogie and jazz piano made her a popular performer on the international touring circuit, where she kept running into another well traveled touring piano artist, Italian Paulo Alderighi.
Paulo Alderighi comes from Milan, Italy and earned a degree in Piano in 2000 from the Verdi Conservatory of Milan, followed by a degree in Economics for Arts, Culture and Media from Bocconi University in 2005. Like Ms. Trick he gravitated to an interest in jazz piano, rather than the classical repertoire, though he did not concentrate on American stride and boogie woogie, but jazz more in keeping with his Italian background and culture, i.e., swing. He began touring European concert venues in 1996, and by 2007 was being recognized as one of the top jazz pianists of his generation, winning first place as “Brand New Jazz Act” in the Italian Jazz Awards 2007, and second place as “Best New Talent” in the jazz magazine Musica Jazz’s Top Jazz 2007. Like Ms. Trick, he had released multiple solo jazz piano albums (Handful of Keys 2003, Rockin In Rhythm 2006, A Touch of Swing 2007) before they first met at a jazz festival in Boswil, Switzerland, in October 2008.
After continuing to run into each other at various international jazz events, Trick and Alderighi decided to start playing together, despite the fact that they played two very different styles of jazz piano. The original idea was that they would play duets on two adjacent pianos, but most of their practices took place on a single piano, so they eventually embraced the idea of playing four hands on one piano. Mind you, it is not easy for jazz musicians to play in four hands on one piano without being redundant or interfering with each other’s playing, but as the old saw goes, love conquers all. They not only conquered the difficulties of two jazz pianists sharing the same bench and 88 keys, but the collaboration eventually led to marriage. The husband and wife team have been performing together as a Four Handed Jazz Piano Duo since 2010 and have released two albums, Two for One 2012 and Sentimental Journey 2014. They are very much in demand to perform at jazz concerts all over the world, and have appeared at many, including, to mention just a few, in the United States: the Sacramento Music Festival; the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento; the Monterey Dixieland Jazz Festival, and the San Diego Jazz Festival; abroad: the Kobe Jazz Street Festival in Kobe, Japan; the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland; the KIG Dixieland Festival in Dresden, Germany; the Ascona Jazz Festival in Ascona, Switzerland; the Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary; Teatro Dal Verme Milano, Jazzland Wien, Bülach Jazz Club, and Jazz Bistro in Toronto.
Prior to their Sept. 16 appearance at The Artistic Piano Gallery in Medford, the couple had performed to a packed house of 700 jazz fans for a Sept. 13 Jazz at Filoli concert at San Francisco’s acclaimed outdoor concert venue. After their Medford concert they were heading next to New Orleans’ Steamboat Stomp jazz festival and from there to Italy, then Lockerbie, Scotland. But not without first spending a day, Thursday, Sept. 17, educating students at Crater High School. If you’re wondering how that came to be, indeed how this unique pair of piano wunderkinds came to be in Medford at all, the answer is Siskiyou Music Project. Ed Dunsavage, the Artistic Director of Siskiyou Music Project is well informed, well connected, knows who the leading artists are, and where they are, and seems to never miss a chance to snare them to come to Medford when an opportunity presents itself. The Four Handed Jazz Piano Duo had been scheduled to play a concert in Hyampom, CA after the Filoli concert, which was cancelled due to the massive forest fires in the area. In short order, Mr. Dunsavage had made satisfactory arrangements for them to play at The Artistic Piano Gallery in Medford instead. And since music education is one of the missions of the Siskiyou Music Project, he arranged the educational outreach at Crater High too. While I’m tossing around bouquets, Eric Werner, President of The Artistic Piano Gallery, deserves some acknowledgement too, for graciously providing a very apropos space for the concert as well as a truly grand, grand piano for Ms. Trick and Mr. Alderighi to perform on- a beautiful looking and exquisite sounding 6’ 7” Yamaha C5 Conservatory Collection Concert Grand Piano.
I’m quite sure that’s enough background, and you’d like me to get on with some discussion of the Medford concert already. Well, alright then. Right from the start, it was obvious that Ms. Trick & Mr. Alderighi were not only supremely talented pianists, but something very unique and special: a very in-sync couple, well in tune with each other, well-coordinated with one another and clearly in love. They began the concert by playing a very jazzy interpretation of James P. Johnson’s The Charleston, in which the wonderful interplay and interaction between them was immediately apparent. Not only were their hands in sync on the piano keyboard, but the smiles, and affectionate glances cast between them lit up the room. They went on to play several other pieces, from the early American jazz piano repertoire (e.g., George Johnson’s 1864 song, When You and I Were Young, Maggie) all demonstrating both how accomplished each of them are on the piano keyboard, and what a fantastic, impossibly well coordinated pair they are when playing as a four hand jazz duo.
Then they took time out to explain the differences between their two styles of playing, illustrating the differences with brief snippets of performance of the different styles. Ms. Trick, as she is wont to do, explained what stride music is, where it came from and gave a demonstration. One could see just how enthusiastic she is about the genre, and easily understand how she clearly has become the leader in the movement to revive interest in Harlem stride. And if anyone had any doubts about her abilities as a solo artist, she played two solo numbers, Eubie Blake’s The Trouble With Ivories and George Gershwin’s Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away) and knocked them out of the ball park (yeah, it IS a mixed metaphor, but use any terms you like, she was spectacular in whatever lingo you want to use.) You don’t have to believe me – have a listen for yourself. Here’s a two minute excerpt from The Trouble With Ivories:
What happened next was extraordinary. Trick and Alderighi espied in the audience a jazz singer they recognized, Brady McKay. So they invited her to come up and sing with them. Unrehearsed. She had never before sung with them the number they performed, Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke’s Pennies from Heaven. Talk about jazz improvisation. But even without any preparation or rehearsal, thus totally improvised, it was well done. Again, don’t take my word for it, here’s an excerpt of a little more than a minute from that performance:
Ms. Trick and Mr. Alderighi followed that with their finest performance of the evening, their specialty, a unique arrangement of W. C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues, lusciously mixing Mr. Alderighi’s “sadder” Italian swing style of playing, with Ms. Trick’s lively boogie-woogie. Everything was on display in that number, their respective skills with the keyboard, their rapport, their coordination and partnership, their deep appreciation for one another; it was GRAND! (Ain’t love grand, when the couple are both virtuoso pianists, and they’ve harnessed their affection and devotion to so exquisitely share a single grand piano?) I know you’d like an excerpt of THAT performance, so I’m going to provide one and it’s unusually long, so you can have an opportunity to really see how this couple work together – certainly enjoy the piano playing, but also watch the displays of affection, collaboration, and mutual respect illustrated in this clip:
After a well-earned intermission, they returned to the small stage and performed a set of three more four-handed pieces (a jazzy version of Les Brown and Ben Homer’s Sentimental Journey, a Fats Waller number, and Ted Snyder’s 1921 tune The Sheik of Araby) all again demonstrating their uncanny prowess working together as a four handed team, encouraging one another, taking turns at the keyboard and highlighting their different respective styles.
Then it was Mr. Alderighi’s turn to establish that he is a fine solo jazz pianist, a worthy recipient of all those best jazz pianist awards collected at home, which he demonstrated by performing an impressive jazzy rendition of the Jerome Kern Showboat tune, Old Man River. Surely, you’ll agree that he deserves equal time and attention here, and his performance certainly warranted that. So here’s his two minute excerpt clip”
The couple ended the concert set with the apt last song, Richard A. Whiting’s 1918 tune, Til We Meet Again. But it wasn’t really the last song, because the audience, standing, clapping, whistling and hooting, demanded an encore, and the couple accommodated the audience’s hue and cry. Mr. Alderighi explained that they had dug out an obscure, forgotten old blues and boogie-woogie piece which they wanted to give new life (in fact, so obscure that they didn’t know the piece’s name, so they gave it a new name at every performance. For the encore performance at Wednesday, Sept. 16’s concert at The Artistic Piano Gallery, they called it Wednesday Night at the Piano Gallery in Medford). It was another winner, almost as good a performance as that of St. Louis Blues, again showing off all the wonderful aspects of a piano collaboration fueled by love and mutual respect. I have a great recording of that too. But come on. Enough already. I’ve already given you an unheard of 4 excerpt clips from the Sept. 16 concert. If you want to hear more great jazz, I suggest you come to one of the six remaining concerts being offered this Fall by Siskiyou Music Project.
The next concert on Siskiyou Music Project’s Fall calendar is Mussette Explosion, a trio of New York virtuoso musicians (accordion, trumpet/tuba and bass) playing musette, an erotic style of dancehall music that became popular in pre-WWII Paris, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at the Old Siskiyou Barn, 2200 Old Siskiyou Hwy., Ashland, OR 97520. Following that, Siskiyou Music Project returns to The Artistic Piano Gallery, 1390 Biddle Rd., #107, Medford, OR 97504 on Wednesday, Nov. 11, for a concert by the New West Guitar Group, with vocalist Halie Loren. For tickets, phone Siskiyou Music Project at 541-488-3869 or purchase online at http://bit.ly/1NLOJOr.
(All video recordings displayed in this review used with permission of the artists.)