Stephanie Trick, Virtuoso Stride Pianist

On Sunday July 19, 2009 D.G. and I attended a concert delivered by Stephanie Trick, as part of the Northern Virginia Ragtime Society concert series. Walking into the Jordan Kitts, M.C. and his daughter were ticking off names as NVRS members checked in, and M.C. said to me “Great license plate!” He was referring to my C.R.V.’s license plate, “FATS WLR”. Most NVRS members will know the reference; and my close friends know that Fats is my favorite classic jazz pianist.

Ms. Trick opened her program with Scott Joplin’s Pineapple Rag, which she described as “one of the finest rags ever written,” and she then proceeded with a mix of classic ragtime, stride piano, terra verde ragtime, and novelty piano pieces. Here is her program as per my notes (I cannot guarantee that my notes are error-free).

Piece Composer
Pineapple Rag Scott Joplin
Grace and Beauty James Scott
Pastime Rag No. 4 Artie Matthews
Viper’s Drag Thomas “Fats” Waller
Liza (from Show Girl) George Gershwin
Bethena (waltz) Scott Joplin
Maple Leaf Rag Scott Joplin (arrangement by Ms. Trick)
Carolina Shout James P. Johnson
Roberto Clemente David Thomas Roberts
… Dance (I didn’t quite catch the first word of the title, but after doing some Google research I believe this was Anitra’s Dance) Donald Lambert / Edvard Grieg (an example of “ragging the classics”, i.e., arranging classical music in the ragtime style)
Doll Dance (duo piano with Alex Hassan) Jacques Fray
Perpetuum Mobile (Perpetual Motion; duo piano with Alex Hassan) Ernst Fischer
Valentine Stomp Thomas “Fats” Waller
Solace Scott Joplin
Bach Up To Me Thomas “Fats” Waller / Dick Hyman
Dizzy Fingers Zez Confrey
Handful of Keys Thomas “Fats” Waller
Fingerbreaker Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton
Space Shuffle (duo piano with Adam Yarian) Robin Frost
The Royal Garden Blues (duo piano with Adam Yarian) Clarence Williams
I’ve Found A New Baby Clarence Williams
Poodlin’ With Pat Neville Dickey

The first duo piano pice performed with Alex Hassan, Doll Dance, is not the same piece that Mr. Hassan performed duo piano with Frederick Hodges in the May 10 NVRS concert; that piece was Wedding of the Painted Doll, also arranged by Jacques Fray.

The latter duo piano pieces were played with Adam Yarian, who is now studying law at the University of Chicago. Mr. Yarian started out on the upright piano with Ms. Trick on the grand; but then he requested to switch pianos. (I believe he was feeling claustrophobic, since the upright was right up against a wall.) Ms. Trick accommodated him and they switched pianos, but in mid-performance she gave up on the upright, strode over to the grand, took over the upper register of the grand, and finished the performance as an single-piano duet. I think that the audience was tickled by the mid-performance switch — it was completely unscripted, and totally cool.

(D.G. noted that Mr. Yarian himself was good enough to be a featured NVRS performer. And Mr. Yarian has indeed been a past featured artist in the NVRS concert series, on more than one occasion.)

Although her selection of pieces in this concert was a big mix — and Ms. Trick also has recorded classical music — I would classify her as a stride pianist. As supporting evidence for this classification, during the intermission I asked her who her favorite ragtime/stride/jazz/novelty composer was, and she answered “Fats Waller.” (I was immensely pleased.) Note that the word “virtuoso” in the title of this post is redundant, since the stride genre is in general very difficult. If you’re a stride pianist, you must be a virtuoso. In contrast, I think it is possible to be a ragtime pianist without being a virtuoso.

During the intermission, I bought Ms. Trick’s audio CD Hear That Rhythm!, and have been listening to it during my daily commute to work. The playlist has some overlap with the NVRS concert, so if you’d like a sample of what the concert was like you can listen to the CD. Sometimes contemporary pianists’ recordings of stride piano seem a little strained, as if the pianists were playing just at the limits of their abilities. Not so with Ms. Trick; I think she strides better than many other pianists, and seems quite comfortable in the genre. She sounds unstrained, as if she hasn’t yet reached the limits of her technique.

In the NVRS concert, Ms. Trick played a duo piano version of Space Shuffle, a piece by Robin Frost, a composer I have mentioned in a previous post on superhumanly difficult piano music. And her CD Hear That Rhythm! has not one but two performances of pieces by Mr. Frost.

I would be very interested in hearing Ms. Trick try her hand at some of Jelly Roll Morton’s more lyrical pieces such as The Pearls, or perhaps King Porter Stomp. (I have a soft spot for lyricism.)

Here’s a link to D.G.’s blog post on Ms. Trick’s concert.

If I recall correctly, when he was introducing Ms. Trick to the audience, Alex Hassan said that the existence of young ragtime/stride/jazz/novelty pianists of Ms. Trick’s caliber gives us hope for the future. I must heartily agree.