Ralph Earl Sutton was an outstanding pianist in the great tradition of Harlem stride giants James P. Johnson and Fats Waller.
Ralph Sutton was born in Hamburg, Missouri on November 4th, 1922. His career got under way when he joined Jack Teagarden in 1941 while he was still in college. During the ’40s he attracted widespread attention, thanks to his participation in a series of radio shows hosted by jazz writer Rudi Blesh, This is Jazz. He had a trio with Albert Nicholas, and beginning in 1948 he worked eight years as intermission pianist at Eddie Condon’s club in New York. Later he worked for Bob Scobey and, in 1963, was featured at the first Dick Gibson Jazz Party in Denver. This led to the formation of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band in 1968, of which Sutton was a founding member.
Thereafter, Sutton’s star rose. He recorded a series of albums and toured the world, solo and in a variety of settings. His musical partners in these ventures included Ruby Braff, Jay McShann, Kenny Davern, and Peanuts Hucko.
On TV, Ralph appeared on the Dick Cavett Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, the Steve Allen Show, and the Today Show. He appeared at Town Hall and the 92nd Street Y in New York, the Boston Symphony Hall, and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. He recorded for Arbors, RCA Victor, Columbia, Verve, Decca, and Commodore, among others. In 1993, Ralph was inducted into the New Jersey Jazz Hall of Fame.
Ralph Sutton died in Evergreen, CO on December 30, 2001, at the age of 79.
Ralph Gleason wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Ralph Earl Sutton is without a doubt the greatest exponent today of the two hands and ten fingers style of jazz piano playing…undoubtedly one of the best pianists in jazz today…he swings…tremendous personal beat and drive…Andre Previn once referred to Sutton as one of the few jazz pianists who had complete mastery of his instrument. Sutton plays with both hands and ten fingers, a full harmonic sense and a delightful wit in his solos. He can swing a band, too.
Stephen Singular wrote in the Denver Post:
…Sutton, a stubborn, dedicated perfectionist, committed to playing his own kind of piano, which is not just stride or ragtime, not just modern or traditional, not just solo or accompanist, but all those things and more.