Ehud Asherie was born on December 20, 1979 in Israel and with his family moved to Italy at the age of three. He started playing piano at the age of seven and attended the Sir James Henderson School, now The British School of Milan, before they moved to the United States when he was nine. As a New York City teenager he visited Smalls Jazz Club, taking private lessons from Frank Hewitt, a pianist who often played there and attending the New School University.
Asherie first played at Smalls when he was a high school sophomore. In 2010 he recorded his debut solo piano album, Welcome to New York with a focus on stride and standards. The same year he played Hammond organ on his quartet release, Organic, mixing bop and swing with standards.
He has recorded seven albums as a leader ranging from duo to quintet group configurations on the Arbor and Posi-Tone labels. He has been a sideman recording with Bryan Shaw, Hilary Gardner and Harry Allen. He has performed with Peter Bernstrin, Joe Cohn, Billy Drummond, Bobby Durham, Frank Gant, Paul Gill, Jimmy Green, Dennis Irwin, Jimmy Lovelace, Joe Magnarelli, Bob Mover, Tim Pleasant, Ben Street and Mark Taylor.
Pianist and organist Ehud Asherie has for two years been playing regularly at Smalls with his own trio, the Grant Stewart Quartet and the Neil Miner Quintet. He has also served as a rehearsal pianist for the Village Vanguard Orchestra and Since January 2000 he’s part of Trio65 at New York City’s Rainbow Grill with bassist Joseph Lepore and drummer Tommaso Cappellato. He continues to perform, record and tour.
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Willie “The Lion” Smith was born William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith on November 25, 1897 in Goshen, New York. His biological father Frank Bertholoff was a light-skinned playboy who loved his liquor, girls, and gambling. His mother, Ida, threw Frank out of the house when William was two years old. After his father died, his mother married John Smith, a master mechanic from Paterson, New Jersey and Smith was added at age three.
In 1907, the family moved to Newark, New Jersey and when he was six discovered his mother’s piano in the basement and she taught him the melodies she knew. His uncle taught him to dance and subsequently he won a dance contest. It was at this time he decided to concentrate on music.
He attended the Baxter School, but after a theft incident involving a dime to see a traveling road show, he was transferred to Morton School in the sixth grade and then went on to Barringer High School, then Newark High, and attempted swimming, skating, track, basketball, sledding, cycling, and boxing to get the ladies attention. He also hung out with prizefighters like Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Gene Tunney and others, belong to a gang and eventually played piano in the back room of one of the members club.
Willie won an upright piano in a newspaper ad contest guessing the number of dots were in a printed circle. From that day forth, he sat down at the piano and played songs he heard in the clubs and saloons, including Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag by, Cannonball Rag by Joe Northrup, Black and White Rag by George Botsford, and Don’t Hit That Lady Dressed in Green, She’s Got Good Booty and Baby, Let Your Drawers Hang Low. By the early 1910s he was playing in New York City and Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Serving in World War I and seeing action in France, Willie played drums with the African-American regimental band led by Tim Brymn and played on the regimental basketball team. Legend has it that his nickname “The Lion” came from his reported bravery while serving as a heavy artillery gunner and he was a decorated veteran of the Buffalo Soldiers 350th Field Artillery regiment. Following the war he returned to work in Harlem clubs and at rent parties as a soloist, in bands or accompanying blues singers like Mamie Smith. Smith and his contemporaries James P. Johnson and Fats Waller developed a new, more sophisticated piano style later called “stride”.
By the 1940s his music found appreciation with a wider audience, and he toured North America and Europe up to 1971. He was at the taking of the jazz photograph A Great Day in Harlem in 1958, however, he was sitting down resting when the selected shot was taken, leaving him out of the final picture. The Lion was also an educator teaching privately and his students included such notable names as Mel Powell, Brooks Kerr, and Mike Lipskin. Although working in relative obscurity, he was a “musician’s musician”, influencing countless other musicians including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, and Artie Shaw.
Duke Ellington demonstrated his admiration of the pianist by composing and recording the highly regarded “Portrait of the Lion” in 1939. In his later years, Newark, New Jersey honored him with Willie “The Lion” Smith Day, and Orange County, New York also proclaimed September 18th as Willie “The Lion” Smith Day, that was also the date of the first Goshen Jazz Festival.
Willie “The Lion” Smith passed away at the age of 79 on April 18, 1973 in New York City.
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James P. Johnson was born James Price Johnson on February 1, 1894 in New Brunswick, New Jersey and was also known as Jimmy Johnson. A move to San Juan Hill, where Lincoln Center stands today, and subsequent move uptown by 1911, exposed him to the musical experience of New York City’s bars, cabarets and symphonies and listening to Scott Joplin attributed to his early influences. With perfect pitch and excellent recall he was soon able to pick out on the piano tunes that he had heard.
Johnson got his first job as a pianist in 1912, left school to pursue his career in music. From 1913 to 1916 Johnson spent time studying the European piano tradition with Bruto Giannini, spending the next four to five years studying other pianists and composing his own rags. In 1914, he met Willie “The Lion” Smith and became best friends. By 1920 he had gained a reputation as a pianist on the East coast on a par with Eubie Blake and Lucky Roberts, making dozens of piano roll recordings and recording for the Perfection, Artempo, Rythmodik, QRS and Aeolian labels.
James was a pioneer in the stride playing of the jazz piano. He developed into the favorite accompanist of Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith. He continued to compose and record during the 1920s and 1930s he recorded on W. C. Handy’s Black Swan label as well as Columbia. He branched out and became musical director for the revue Plantation Days, went to Europe with the show that toured for five years and made it to Broadway.
By the Depression Era his career slowed down somewhat and he found it difficult to adapt to the new swing era music gaining popularity. In the late 1930s Johnson slowly started to re-emerge with the revival of interest in traditional jazz, but suffering a stroke in 1940 took him out of the action until 1942 when he began to record, with his own and other groups with Eddie Condon, Yank Lawson, Sidney de Paris, Sidney Bechet, Rod Cless and Edmond Hall. He went on to record for jazz labels Asch, Black and White, Blue Note, Commodore, Circle and Decca, perform with Louis Armstrong and was a regular guest on the rudi Blesh This Is Jazz broadcasts.
He would teach Fats Waller his Carolina Shout composition, Duke Ellington learned it note for note from his piano roll and the tune became a right of passage for every contemporary pianist. Considered the last major rag pianist and the first major jazz pianist he became the bridge between the two styles. His influence led to the emergence of Art Tatum, Donald Lambert, Louis Mazetier, Pat Flowers, Cliff Jackson, Hank Duncan, Claude Hopkins, Count Basie, Ellington, Don Ewell, Jimmy Guarnieri, Dick Hyman, Dick Weststood, Ralph Sutton, Joe Turner, Neville Dickie, Mike Lipskin and Butch Thompson.
Pianist and composer James P. Johnson, who composed the Roaring Twenties theme song Charleston, along with If I Could be With You One Hour Tonight, and whose music has appeared in countless films, passed away on November 17, 1955 at age 61.
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Johnny Costa was born in Arnold, Pennsylvania on January 17, 1922. He learned to play accordion at age 7 and was reading music three years later. He was encouraged by his high school music teacher, Frank Oliver, to learn the piano after discovering he had perfect pitch. Costa graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in music and education.
After college Johnny began working the same day as the house pianist for a Pittsburgh radio station and television station providing piano and organ music for many programs, eventually teaming with Fred Rogers to arrange and perform the music heard on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for which he served as musical director until his death. He insisted on not playing “baby” music, believing children understood good music and each day, his trio, Carl McVicker Jr. on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on percussion played live in the studio for the taping.
Costa’s debut recording was The Amazing Johnny Costa, on the Savoy label. He gave up his lucrative career and international recognition to stay near family and friends, resigning as musical director of the Mike Douglas Show to perform only in western Pennsylvania for the remainder of his life. Costa appeared along with guitarist Joe Negri on the 1954 Ken Griffin TV series 67 Melody Lane performing After You’ve Gone and Little Brown Jug, with the latter being accompanied by Ken Griffin at the organ.
Pianist Johnny Costa, given the title “The White Tatum” by jazz legend Art Tatum, passed away of anemia on October 11, 1996, at age 74 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Much of the music heard on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood continued to be his and the show’s closing continued to list Costa as its Musical Director.
Ralph Earl Sutton was born November 4, 1922 in Hamburg, Missouri. He had a stint as a session musician playing stride piano with Jack Teagarden’s band before joining the US Army during World War II. After the war, he played at various venues in Missouri, eventually ending up at Eddie Condon’s club in Greenwich Village.
In 1956, Ralph relocated to San Francisco, California, where he recorded several albums with Bob Scobey’s Dixieland band. From the 1960s onward, he worked mostly on his own. However, when the World’s Greatest Jazz Band was established in 1968, he was the natural choice for piano. He left that band in 1974 due to the extensive travel involved, and joined an old sidekick, Peanuts Hucko in a quartet in Denver, near his home in Evergreen, Colorado.
He recorded with Ruby Braff, Dick Cary, Kenny Davern, Jay McShann and Johnny Varro. Stride pianist Ralph Sutton, who played in the tradition of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, passed away on December 30, 2001 of a stroke in Evergreen, Colorado at the age of 79.
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