Harlem Stride Celebration at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem

By Matt Micucci

A series of events throughout January and the start of February hosted by Ethan Iverson at the newly re-opened National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

The Harlem Stride was a jazz piano style that was developed in large cities of the East Coast, during the twenties and thirties. It is regarded as the first step beyond ragtime that brought improvisation and rhythmic excitement to the living rooms, nightclubs and bance halls and Harlem.

In the stride, the left hand characteristically played a four-beat pulse with a single bass note, octave, seventh or tenth interval on the first and third beats, and a chord on the second and fourth beats. Occasionally this pattern was reversed by placing the chord on the downbeat and bass note or notes on the upbeat.

This gave stride players left hand the ability to leap greater distances on the keyboard, and play in a wider range of tempos, with greater emphasis on improvisation.

The National Museum in Harlem will celebrate its re-opening with a landmark series that pays homage to the harlem stride throughout the month of January and the start of February.

Hosted by pianist Ethan Iverson, best known as one-third of the postmodern jazz trio The Bad Plus, is a jazz historian as well as a big fan of stride piano. For this intimate series, Iverson will discuss the history of stride, play recordings, and demonstrate at the keyboard.

On January 12, the theme will be “Classical Excellent”, and examines the different influences and the people who brought stride to its first apotheosis.

On January 19, the session will be entitled “Jazz Piano”, and willbe a quick leap from early stride to the greats of the swing era, where there was more improvisation and greater harmonic flexibility, but the “oom-pah” from the southpaw remained constant.

On January 26, the session will be called “You’ve Got to Be Modernistic”. It will be about the time when the bebop era began. It was almost a rout: The pianist seemingly had to abandon any stride tendencies in favor of a less left hand-dominated style. Still, some musicians found a way to be avant-garde while being traditional.

The final session will then take place on February 2, and will be entitled “Carolina Shout(s) 2016”. On this occasion, Iverson and a team of ivory-ticklers will all attempt the same famous James P. Johnson work. Hopefully the atmosphere will be more collegial than competitive, but no promises. The musicians will also discuss why working on stride today remains relevant.

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