Frederick Hodges

Kitten on the Keys: Ragtime, Novelty and Stride Classics

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Anyone who likes ragtime and early stride piano will enjoy this Kitten on the Keys release by California pianist Frederick Hodges. It's a fully packed hour of toe-tapping, bouncing, cheering music by the likes of Zez Confrey, Eubie Blake, Luckey Roberts, and others. Whereas most classically trained pianists would approach this music straightforwardly -- or not at all -- Hodges not only embraces the humor of the music, he also embraces the improvisational tradition of those skilled and ingenious early jazz pianists. He hardly ever strictly follows the written music, but what he does with it sounds so in character with the original that only those who really know them would know the difference. In the opposite direction, he also adds a bit of the classical pianists' tricks of a little pedal here, a little crescendo there, repeating a phrase more quietly than before, changing his key touch, and other things to put in that much more character. All the music is captured in extremely close, warm, and deep sound, so the listener doesn't miss a note or nuance. The only caveat that needs to be made is that Hodges' first run of discs was not mastered with the tracks in the same order as they appear in the track listing (subsequent printings match the track listing). That aside, the genuine vivacity of his playing and the pieces, with titles like Fizz Water, Smiles and Chuckles, and You Tell 'Em Ivories, can't fail to cure a case of the blahs.

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