I met pianist Dalton Ridenhour through a mutual friend a couple weeks ago. As soon as he told me he played stride piano, I asked him to make sure to let me know when he was playing. I happened to be in town for tonight’s gig and had a chance to see Dalton — and some friends — take the crowd at Small’s on a tour through jazz piano history.
Ridenhour has a great ear for melodies. He mostly played immediately recognizable tunes — “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?” or “Alberta, Alberta” — but he sprinkled in some pieces that were new to me such as “Cryin’ For The Carolines” and a James P. Johnson tune that I think was called “Riffs.” Throughout the set, Ridenhour showed not only a mastery of the piano, but a real sense for pacing and flow and for the general shape of a song. His improvisations were fluid and interesting, which was particularly impressive given the harmonic and rhythmic rules imposed by the genre.
Twice during the set, Ridenhour featured vocalist Mara Kaye, who belted out “Sugar In My Bowl” and “Any Kind of Man” and slunk her way through “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.” She had a strong and very anachronistic voice that perfectly fit the music. (Although it was sometimes a little more than the sound system could handle.) She’s definitely someone I’ll watch for around her native Brooklyn.
Trombonist Dan Reitz was a nice addition to two of the last three tunes.
Ridenhour is a talented player. I’ll be seeing him again. If you’d like to be transported back in time to hear piano music from a bygone — but still very fresh and alive — age, you should see him, too.