Jazz pianist Matt DeChamplain takes his music in stride

PITTSFIELD — As a solo act, Matt DeChamplain is a one-man band at the keyboard.

The Connecticut-based jazz pianist is rooted in stride piano, a highly energetic style developed in Harlem during the 1920s that grew out of ragtime piano playing.

"I grew up with the style listening to my grandfather's piano rolls of jazz greats," he said. "[Stride piano] is very technical, powerful and athletic."

DeChamplain explains that stride piano has the right hand playing the melody while the left hand is the accompaniment, the rhythm usually provided by a bass player, guitarist and/or drummer. The hand movement is like watching a game of "Twister."

"[Jazz pianist] Hal Galper said 'We're the athletes of fine muscles,'" DeChamplain noted in a phone interview with The Eagle.

DeChamplain's piano prowess should enliven the Berkshires on Friday night at the newly refurbished American Legion Post 68. Sponsored by Berkshires Jazz Inc., the "Stride Night" concert at 7:30, with optional Italian buffet at 6:30, will feature music from the DeChamplain "Stride-Bop" CD. Critics consider the recordings a fresh approach to jazz classics as well as interpretations of the thirtysomething musician's own compositions.

The intimate show includes the jazz pianist engaging the audience in conversation about the historical time-line of jazz, demonstrated through music from ragtime to popular songs in the jazz genre. He'll illustrate how various stride players influenced generations of jazz giants.

Highly regarded in the jazz community for stride piano, DeChamplain deflects the praise. He sees himself as a steward of stride piano for the next generation.

"It's like buying an old, historic house, you'll only be living there for a short time," he said. "I'm learning to play jazz in a truthful manner."

DeChamplain returns to the Berkshires after two successful gigs in recent years as The DeChamplain Trio with wife and vocalist Alta DeChamplain.

"Each audience has been incredibly receptive. The atmosphere in Pittsfield is always great," said the husband.

The high-school sweethearts built their careers on a foundation of traditional jazz going back to the 1930s and '40s. Early in their careers they performed the greats as often as possible.

"The best thing to do as an artist is copy the greats and as you get older, ask, 'How can I make my own original compositions?'" Alta told The Eagle prior to the trio performing in Pittsfield's 10X10 Festival in February, 2017.

DeChamplain's solo performance is in tune with the city's monthly First Friday Artswalk and final weekend of the statewide Artweek celebration.

DeChamplain will also travel unaccompanied to Pittsfield as Alta remains home, preparing for the couple's first child. The father-to-be says his wife could give birth at anytime to a son.

"Hopefully, he's a bass player or a drummer and we can start a family [jazz] ensemble," he quipped.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233


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