The Time: Sunday, February 27, 2011, 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Place: The Porch Club, 4th and Howards Sts., Riverton, NJ
Joe Holt, piano
Direction. Getting from point A to point B. How we get from those two points varies according to the individual. For some, the quickest route serves best, not attractive for sight-seeing, but saves time. For others, taking in some scenery, and an escape from the busiest highways with its congestion, short-tempered drivers et al allows for a more pleasant drive.
Then there’s Joe Holt.
To illustrate visually a Joe Holt piano performance would go something like this: Getting in the car, starting the engine, go back in the house because he forgot something, get back in car, drive around the block three times to admire the Christmas lights, then go back to the house because he forgot to say goodbye to the pet dog, off again, one more trip around the block-this time to admire the neighbor’s ’57 Chevy, makes a U-turn, then arrives at a traffic light, makes another U-turn to go to an intersection where there is no light, takes a road less traveled to get to point B! It is an understated cliché to define Holt’s playing as the mouse in the maze hunting for the elusive piece of cheese.
To be a good stride pianist, one must have a strong left hand. All the greats had them – Smith, Johnson, Waller, etc. Mr. Holt was no exception. In some cases, he presented his left hand as a walking bass, taking “bass solos” as in the case in his performance of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” However, his right hand should not go unnoticed-the driving metaphor described in the previous paragraph is applied here. Some performances like in the opening “Aint Misbehavin’” had both hands switch parts – the bass playing melody and the treble playing bass.
All of the selections performed had their moments. “Putting on the Ritz” could be defined as “What happened after the Ritz.” Both hands stagger in opposite directions, somehow managing to hail a taxi cab to go uptown, while passing Carnegie Hall, “Anitra’s Dance” is performed, ultimately arriving at Small’s Paradise Café where the house band is playing “Sing, Sing, Sing.” “If Only” a Holt original, took a different direction. Described as a “feeling of regret,” the title fits the mood of the piece, sort of a looking back on an unpleasant past. Based loosely on the melody of “Ochi Chernye (Dark Eyes)”, the piece reminds one of Debussy’s impressionistic works. The closing, “I Got Rhythm” was the best saved for last. Describing his penchant for quoting as “my Tourettes,” Holt applied them liberally, citing diversified works as “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and “Seven, Come Eleven.” Gershwin’s composition brought out the Basie in Holt, applying the subtle treble effects the great Count was known for, even going so far as to allow a Walter Page impression with his left hand!
The relaxed encore, “If I Had You,” marked the end of an adventurous ride, arriving at Point B, safe and sound. - Jim McGann