Think of all the duos in show business history: George Burns and Gracie Allen, Laurel and Hardy, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. When the chemistry between two artists clicks, there's nothing like it. Alone, each one might be a genius but together they make history.
The remarkable partnership between jazz legend Dick Hyman and Cullum Band pianist John Sheridan began in May 1989. Dick Hyman flew down to San Antonio from his home base in New York to appear on the first national radio broadcast of "Riverwalk, Live from the Landing," now known as Riverwalk Jazz. The show was a tribute to Fats Waller called "It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Man Swings." Getting set to perform before a live audience on a live broadcast bouncing off a satellite in space into radios across the country, our dynamic duo faced off across two grand pianos on our tiny stage at the Landing. On stage left, wearing a red bow tie, our premier piano man John Sheridan. On the right, world-class pianist Dick Hyman. The result? Pianistic pyrotechnics filled the air.
There's not much that Dick Hyman has left undone in a career, which began in the 1950s. Memorable highlights include his early days taking piano lessons from Teddy Wilson and playing with Benny Goodman; a stint as Music Director for Arthur Godfrey on television; his work composing film scores for numerous Woody Allen movies; his "History of Jazz" concerts with Leonard Feather; his original compositions for ballet, television and theater; plus a catalog of over 100 recordings under his own name.
John Sheridan was born in Columbus, Ohio and began performing when he was only thirteen. He went on to receive a Master's degree in Music Theory from the renowned music school at North Texas State University. As pianist with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band for more than two decades, he honed his chops playing six nights a week at The Landing jazz club. As music arranger for the Riverwalk Jazz radio series, John scored hundreds of arrangements; notably a jazz transcription of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and full band arrangements of rarely heard compositions by James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton. John Sheridan is a "walking encyclopedia" with a photographic memory, full of interesting bits of knowledge about music and the movies.
Both Sheridan and Hyman are life-long devotees of the "Harlem Big Three" stride piano masters: James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith and Thomas "Fats" Waller. This edition of Riverwalk Jazz features works by all three groundbreaking jazzmen.
While a student at Columbia University in New York, Hyman would frequently hop on the subway to take in the vibrant live music scene which abounded in Greenwich Village, on 52nd Street, in Harlem and points between. He wrote, "I [frequented] Jimmy Ryan’s, sat in at Eddie Condon’s club at the original Village location, and at the Pied Piper where both James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith were playing a few blocks away, with trumpeter Max Kaminsky’s band."
In tribute to the "Father of Stride Piano" James P. Johnson (1894-1955), the duo executes an energetic rendition of his "The Charleston," a tune that first hit Broadway in 1923 and launched a national dance craze.
Willie "the Lion" Smith (1893-1973) was highly esteemed by pianists of his day, especially Duke Ellington who said, "Willie ‘the Lion’ was the greatest influence of all the great jazz piano players who have come along. He has a beat that stays in the mind." For this radio show, Hyman and Sheridan perform Smith's piece "Morning Air" as a duo, and the pair performs his "Bring on the Band" in an arrangement with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band.
Fats Waller (1904-1943) created and recorded a never-equaled series of virtuosic stride piano solo pieces, of which "Handful of Keys" is perhaps the best known. Our piano duo performs “Keys” and also the more introspective, blues-tinged Waller/Razaf piece, "Willow Tree," originally written for a 1928 show called Keep Shufflin.'
Both pianists offer solo pieces on this production. Dick Hyman contributes a truly unique solo arrangement of the Harold Arlen favorite "Over the Rainbow" and a Art Tatum-esque interpretation of "Try a Little Tenderness."
John Sheridan says, "In 1938 the team of Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren came together to write music for motion pictures. Their first picture assignment was Going Places with Louis Armstrong as one of the supporting actors. It was a racetrack-themed movie and Armstrong had the part of a horse trainer. The script stated that Louis had to sing a song to a horse! It was the genius of Johnny Mercer to come up with the concept of making the name of the horse and the name of a song one and the same: "Jeepers Creepers." Here, Sheridan offers his playful solo version.
Jazz Age cornetist Bix Beiderbecke became one of the first jazzmen fascinated with new harmonic ideas presented by the early 20th century Impressionist composers Ravel and Debussy. John Sheridan presents his solo version of Beiderbecke's rarely heard composition for piano from his Modern Suite, a contemporary sounding piece influenced by Impressionist composer Eastwood Lane, "Candle Lights."
"The Eye Opener" comes from the playing of Bob Crosby piano man Bob Zurke. Hyman and Sheridan demo and discuss the unique Bach-like quality of contrapuntal inner voices in Zurke’s performance style. Crosby Band founding member and jazz legend Bob Haggart is on bass.
In a lighter moment in the show, Dick Hyman sings one of his original compositions, created for the 1983 Woody Allen film Zelig, "Doin' the Chameleon."
Piano dynamos Dick Hyman and John Sheridan join forces to bring this radio show to a close by tackling a challenging masterpiece from Chicago's Joe Sullivan, "Little Rock Getaway."
Photo credit for Home Page: John Sheridan and Dick Hyman. Photo courtesy Riverwalk Jazz.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick © 1997