Composer Alec Wilder on Pianist Ellis Larkins


Ellis Larkins (Photo from the Digital Collections in the Arthur Friedheim Library of the Peabody Institute.)

SKF NOTE: I am familiar with composer Alec Wilder and pianist Ellis Larkins. Through the writings of pianist Marian McPartland, and, I think, other sources, I’m also somewhat aware of Mr. Wilder’s command of the English language, and of his wit. This is from a short essay Mr. Wilder wrote about Mr. Larkins. The way Wilder describes Larkins’s musicianship is, in my opinion, first-class writing.

Alec Wilder: He achieves his musical points always by means of understatement. His economy is as brilliant as a Simenon sentence. He is strong and direct without ever spilling over into aggressiveness. His left-hand harmonic inventions and sinus bass lines are marvels of ingenuity and unexpectedness. His rhythmic sense is absolute, and his choices of tempi are as right as Basie’s or Norvo’s. His wit, manifested in interpolated phrases, is irresistible and his blues walk you right on down the aisle. His ballads are rich without being cloying and his up tunes are danced in felt slippers with an almost audible smile.

Source: “Ellis Larkins: An Appreciation,” by Alec Wilder, Down Beat October 26, 1972.

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