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MMD > Archives > May 1998 > 1998.05.15 > 03Prev  Next

Herman Chittison - American Stride Pianist
By Bob West, forwarded

[ Jody and I often receive inquiries from visitors to the MMD web site,
 [  and we try to help answer simple questions and/or put the letter
 [ in the Digest.  Sometimes the letters are brief but tantalizing:

 [ > To:
 [ > From: Robert West <>
 [ > Subject: Herman Chittison
 [ >
 [ > I knew him.  Died in Cleveland, Ohio, in mid-60's.  He recorded
 [ > in India; in U.S. he recorded for Musicraft.
 [ I wrote to Mr. West:
 [ > I'll look up the MMD reference.  Can you tell us more about
 [ > this artist?  I think you have knowledge that no one else has!
 [ Mr. West responded with this article for MMD.

 From: (Bob West)(fwd)
 Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 23:36:56 -0400

 Subject: Herman Chittison

I first heard Herman Chittison on a radio crime drama called Flashgun
Casey, Crime Photographer.  The show always opened in a bar, with
Chittison playing a bit before going into background for the opening
dialogue.  I was impressed, and he was credited on the show as the
pianist.  He also appeared on radio on the Lanny Ross Show in 1946.

I next heard him, when I was in the Phillipines in 1945/46, on a
phonograph record with the Musicraft label.  I wrote home to have
my mother order the 78s of his, which I still have.

In the 1960s, to my astonishment, he came to The Pier club in Cleveland
with Irene Williams, the daughter of Clarence Williams, the famous
pianist, composer and jazz recording artist of the 20s and 30s.  She
was great, and so was Chittison.  That's when I spent a lot of time at
the club and got to know him.

But the next time I saw him (after that club date) was in February of
1967; I spent an afternoon with him in his hospital room where he was
recovering from a lung cancer operation.  He had just married an
18-year-old, one of the most beautiful black women I have ever met.
He died March 8th, 1967, in Cleveland.

Herman Chittison was born in 1909 in Flemingburg, Kentucky.  He was
self-taught and started out with the Zack Whyte Band in Cincinnati,
then toured with Stepin Fetchit and Ethel Waters.  He went to Europe in
the early 1930s and played with Louis Armstrong in France, and with the
Willie Lewis Band, leaving in 1940 as the war threatened France.

He had his own band in Egypt and also played in India.  He recorded in
France with Louis Armstrong on French Brunswick; also recorded for
Pathe and Swing labels.  Aside from his Musicraft 78s he made an LP for
Columbia and another for Jansara.  He says he recorded in Egypt and
India, but there is no discography that mentions this.

I met Irene Williams again when she toured with Cab Calloway in Porgy
and Bess, and I met her mother, Eva Taylor, the vocalist and wife of
Clarence Williams.  Irene died tragically young, but I don't know the
cause.  Herman told me she had died; she had great potential.

I rank Chittison fifth among great pianists:  Jelly Roll Morton is # 1;
Art Tatum is # 2; Earl Hines is # 3; and Teddy Wilson is # 4.

The greatest night I ever had was an all night in an illegal black
club, listening to Art Tatum and Marion McPartland alternate at the
piano from 3 until 8 in the morning.  WOW !!

My best to you - and good listening,

Bob West
Kent State University

 [ In Digest 960715 Paul Johnson wrote:
 [> The good news is there is a whole CD of Chittison material on the
 [> Classics CD label, #690.  It's called `Herman Chittison 1933-1941'.
 [> His performances of Harlem Rhythm Dance and Nagasaki are truly
 [> amazing.  I picked up my copy at a Tower Record store, but also
 [> try World Records out of San Rafael CA.

(Message sent Fri 15 May 1998, 05:27:54 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  American, Chittison, Herman, Pianist, Stride

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