Judy Carmichael


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Stride piano has been a nearly extinct art form for the past half-century, although kept alive for a time by its originators (who are now all gone) and a few succesors and revivalists. Before Bud Powell made the presence of a bassist necessary by shifting the function of the left hand to playing irregularly stated chords, the jazz pianist was an orchestra by him or herself. One's left hand not only hit chords, but strode back and forth in order to generate a steady and frequently exciting rhythm. Many of today's stride pianists are amateurs with stiff, metronomic rhythms, or converted ragtime players with impressive technique who barely improvise. Judy Carmichael has long had the technique, but also the rare ability of bringing life to veteran standards, even while playing at rapid tempos. On her latest release from C&D, Carmichael revives 13 pre-bop tunes ranging from "Dill Pickles" and "Lady Be Good" to "Christopher Columbus" and Jelly Roll Morton's "Grandpa's Spells." Her solo disc is a bit unusual in that, like Dick Hyman, Carmichael performed the music a year before it was actually recorded, using a modern player piano (in this case a PianoDisc). Fortunately, player pianos have advanced quite a bit since their pre-1920 heyday, and are now able to pick up the complex rhythms and subtleties of masterful players. This enjoyable set, which has many joyous stomps and plenty of spontaneity, is highly recommended to fans of swing, classic jazz and solo piano.