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Piano

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Johnm:
Hi Thomas and Harry,
I have a problem with saying definitively that a piece was played on piano in a different key than it sounded in, especially if the piece is squarely in tune in the "unlikely" key. Where a tune's pitch splits the difference between a likely and an unlikely key, I'm fine with being persuaded that it was played in the more likely key. For the tunes that you guys have targeted, how about if I add a note saying, for example, "piano sounding in Gb, piano probably tuned a half-step flat and played in G"?
I think it's worth noting that sometimes self-taught pianists gravitate toward unlikely keys. The composer Irving Berlin could only play the piano in Db and had a complicated mechanism added to his piano so that he could finger it in Db and have it sound in other keys. And for whatever reason, the great majority of the compositions of Billy Strayhorn were in Db. I definitely think it is possible that some of these pianists played in these unlikely keys. Playing in unlikely keys can be a point of pride, too, viz. the Mississippi Sheiks.

I will make the changes to the tunes you cited.

All best,
Johnm

Blues Vintage:
You can never be 100 % sure on this but I think it's more likely that something was done with the recording than a piano that was tuned lower or higher.
Adding a note when there's doubt on a key for a piece is fine by me.

I have a copy of "Barrelhouse and Boogie Piano" (Eric Kriss, first published 1973). He transcribed "Whistlin' Alex Moore's Blues" in G. Very likely the accurate key.
He transcribed Indiana Avenue Stomp In E. I'm pretty sure Montana Taylor played the song in Eb. I think I've never encountered a (blues based) piano piece from the 20's or 30's that was played in E.

But yes, pianists back in the day had their own weird little things. The ones that probably didn't have formal music training or/and couldn't read music. Almost all blues pianists.
Jimmy Yancey ended almost every piece he played in Eb regardless of what key the song was in. There's a possibility a (self taught) pianist played a tune in the ankward key of B for example but even then it's still very unlikely. You can guess with 95 % certainty it was played in Bb or C.

Thomas8:
I think you can be though because playing piano in certain keys are like the guitar positions and it's impossible to replicate the same sounding thing in each key.

Db isn't that unlikely a key for the time, The most unlikely keys are what we'd deem standard keys today E,B,D and A every other key was played to some extent.

Take a look at Leroy Carr's output there's not a single one in E,A,D or B and Ab,Db and Gb are used regularly.

I haven't been able to find any blues piano accompaniment played in the position of E (even Sykes!) pre-war. I know of a few sides Myrtle Jenkins played behind Bumble Bee Slim that are in B and Roosevelt Sykes was probably the only pre-war pianist that played in D and used it often. A position is more common (Lee Green, Roosevelt Sykes, Black Boy Shine, Charley Taylor Walter Roland etc.) but still an anomaly and those positions have a completely different feel and sound.




 

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