Two jazz musicians bring a taste of true American art to the Kingman community
At the first note, the first press of the keys, it fills the room. Energy, vibrance, dancing. Beaded dresses swirling in a colorful array. Clusters of bodies fill the dance floor, feet moving to the striding fingers on the piano.
Young men and women doing the Charleston and the Black Bottom dances long into the night, until they have literally passed out.
It’s the Roaring ‘20s. The Jazz Age.
A piece of American history that lives on to this day right here in Kingman, in the likes of stride jazz pianist Mike Lipskin and jazz vocalist Dinah Lee Dixon-Lipskin.
“Jazz is uniquely American,” Dinah Lee said. “It’s our heritage.”
Lipskin first got a taste of jazz from his father, a journalist in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. His father loved jazz, and the stride jazz Lipskin plays was the kind of jazz he grew up with.
“As soon as I heard Fats Waller, I thought I wanted to play like that,” Lipskin said.
He was hooked on jazz. The feelings, the emotions, the passion.
Lipskin has performed in the U.S. and Europe for over 45 years. He’s played at Carnegie Hall, Davies Symphony Hall and Newport Jazz, all while making his own sound in stride jazz.
Dinah Lee has been performing traditional jazz for years as well. She and Lipskin concertize in San Francisco and New York.
She started her musical career in second grade as a piano student in the Welsh community of Wellston, Ohio.
“After studies and lesson, I would open up the piano and my mother’s sheet music would be on there,” Dinah Lee said.
The music she saw was jazz. Her mother would accompany her on piano while Dinah Lee sang.
“I loved the sound, the chords, the harmonies,” Dinah Lee said. “I would play ‘em and sing along. Being a jazz singer was something I always wanted to do.”
So how did a New York pianist meet an Ohioan vocalist?
The two met through music.
A friend of Lipskin’s retired to the Kingman area and one night was performing in the Colorado Belle in Laughlin. Dinah Lee heard music coming from upstairs and she went to find who was playing jazz piano.
What is Harlem Stride Jazz?
Stride jazz is a “vibrant” and filled with “nuance and power” that was a significant part of the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African American art, music, literature and poetry centered in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood.
It was a popular kind of jazz in the 1920s and 1930s and was made famous by Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, who frequently performed at the Cotton Club, was one of the most influential jazz bandleaders and composers of all time.
It was called “stride” because jazz critics would say the left hand strode across the keys playing a long range of notes between the low section of the piano and the middle section of the piano, Lipskin wrote on his website. This left hand movement helped give the piano its own full rhythm section, a necessity before jazz musicians began incorporating more bass in their sets.
“All this, combining the right hand melodic improvisations with a stride jazz bass make a rocking, swing beat,” he wrote.
“I went up the escalator and looked around, and saw this little man playing the piano,” Dinah Lee said. “And he was playing, and he was playing very well.”
The man was playing “Embraceable You” by George Gershwin. While he was playing he didn’t see Dinah Lee walk up behind him. Dinah Lee said she watched him for a while before she started singing along.
From there, this mutual friend introduced her to Lipskin’s stride jazz piano sounds.
“As soon as I heard that record, I knew I had to meet him,” Dinah Lee said.
“We met through music,” Lipskin added.
The two have now performed for years together.
The two play a style of jazz that is largely unheard these days, adding new twists to old classics all while remembering and respecting and remaining faithful to the original composition.
“Jazz is the original American art form we gave to the world,” Lipskin said. “It’ll be nice for people to remember that.”
Dinah Lee and Lipskin are performing from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23 at the Gallery at the Kingman Center for the Arts, 208 E. Beale St. They have planned a 16 to 18 song set mixing vocals, piano, and records.
Tickets can be bought at the door for $15 or online from the Beale Street Theater. A third of each ticket price goes back to the KCA, Lipskin said.
For further information, contact Lipskin at 928-529-2100.
Everyone is encouraged to come and listen, and dance the night away like 100 years ago.
“A great compliment to me as a stride jazz pianist is when couples get up and dance while I play,” Lipskin said. “Hot jazz and swing was originally considered dance music.”