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Giant Strides: The Legacy of Dick Wellstood

Dick Wellstood knew, understood and sometimes used bebop harmonies, but when he became a professional in the 1940s he was a James P. Johnson pianist in a Bud Powell world. He stayed in that time warp throughout his career, cantankerous and uncompromising, his brilliance as a musician ignored or misunderstood by people who hear in categories. Musicians, particularly pianists, knew Wellstood for what he was, a monster improviser, categories aside. With absolute justification, he and Dick Hyman billed their two-piano partnership as Stridemonster.

Wellstood, Bob Wilber and The Wildcats were a group of teenagers from the toney precincts of Westchester County and southern Connecticut in love with traditional jazz and determined to play it. Their story has been told many times, but not often with the frankness that Edward Meyer brings to it. “Occasionally one or more of them would be invited to sit in at the Central Plaza, Nick’s and Ryan’s,” he writes, “usually because one of the regulars wanted to take a nap or was too drunk to continue.”

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