Luckey Roberts

Harlem Piano Solos

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Along with James P. Johnson, pianists Luckey Roberts and Willie "The Lion" Smith brought stride piano to its fruition in the 1920s. Roberts, in fact, taught and influenced Johnson, Duke Ellington, and even George Gershwin. His innovations would also mark the best work of Fats Waller and later Art Tatum. His contemporary, Smith, might not have been as distinguished, but certainly was as revered in the New York school of stride masters. Both Smith and Johnson would record a fair number of albums during their long lives, but none probably as enjoyable and impressive as this joint 1958 date for the Good Time Jazz label. Johnson is heard on the first half, ranging all over the keyboard on six originals mixed with stride piano and shades of modern jazz phrasing. Standouts include the somewhat exploratory tandem numbers "Inner Space" and "Outer Space." Smith comes off sounding even more impressionistic on his six solo tracks; his five originals, including Debussy-inspired sides like "Morning Air" and "Rippling Water," and a cover of "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" are all amazing. Historical music resplendent in modern stereo sound, this stride summit is essential for all those interested in early jazz piano styles.