In 1997, the Classics label released a twelfth volume in their unprecedented series devoted to the complete chronological recordings of Clarence Williams. Eighteen selections dating from a three-month segment of the year 1934 collectively feature Harlem stride pianists James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith, cornetist Ed Allen, clarinetist Cecil Scott, guitarist Roy Smeck, banjoist Ikey Robinson, bassist Richard Fullbright, tuba technician Cyrus St. Clair, and drummer/washboard handler Floyd Casey. Vocals are by Williams, his wife Eva Taylor, Ed Allen, Ikey Robinson, and composer/comedian Clarence Todd. Tracks 11-18 are by the Alabama Jug Band, with Williams delivering substantial basslines using that old-time staple of down-home musical entertainment, a ceramic whiskey jug. Williams has been posthumously ridiculed for his vaudevillian sensibilities and hokum recordings, but the truth about this man is that he was one of the great publishers and producers of African-American music during the 1920s and '30s. Disparaging comments about his pianistic prowess are directly traceable to Willie "The Lion" Smith, one of the toughest critics who ever passed judgment upon his fellow musicians. Williams was a perfectly capable pianist and a rather shrewd and at times opportunistic businessman who produced Bessie Smith's earliest recording sessions and served as her accompanist, published Fats Waller's first important compositions, recorded comedic piano duets with James P. Johnson, and led a series of recording ensembles that included cornetists King Oliver and Louis Armstrong as well as powerhouse reedman Sidney Bechet. The recordings that Williams presided over between July 6 and October 3, 1934 are among his most sanguine and substantial, particularly the outrageous tale of "Jerry the Junker" and the gutsy "Jazz It Blues," which has a vocal refrain by the Ham and Cabbage Trio.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf