Willie "The Lion" Smith


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This sixth volume in the Classics Willie "The Lion" Smith chronology is packed with exceptionally fine music, beginning with seven Commodore piano solos recorded near the end of 1950. The Lion is in excellent form here -- his thunderously percussive rendition of Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things" could serve as a sort of primal preface to Cecil Taylor's 1959 reconstitution of Porter's "Get Out of Town." The Lion's Blue Circle session of August 15, 1953, features a robust little band with a front line of trumpeter Henry Goodwin, trombonist Jimmy Archey, and reedman Cecil Scott. Myra Johnson, Fats Waller's feisty touring vocalist during the late '30s and early '40s, chips in with a rowdy reading of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Stop It, Joe," a James P. Johnson composition erroneously credited here to Willie "The Lion" Smith. The instrumental tracks from this session, "The Lion Steps Out," "Willie's Blues," and "The Romp," are wonderfully hot traditional jazz of the highest order. "Background Music for a Cocktail Party" has laughter and conversation running continuously in the background, and appears to be an early example of looped mood-adjustment overdubbing. This marvelous compilation closes with a pair of duets with drummer Keg Purnell and a veritable mini-album of eight piano solos based on melodies by James P. Johnson. This series begins and ends with Smith's masterpiece "Echoes of Spring," referred to here as "The Lion's Theme."

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