Stuff Smith

Five Fine Violins: Celebrating 100 Years

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After his heyday in the 1930s with the hit "I'se Muggin'," jazz violinist Stuff Smith was sporadically recorded over the remainder of his career, which ended with his death in 1967. But that hasn't stopped collectors from seeking and issuing long overlooked broadcasts, telecasts, and private recordings. While a cursory look at the song list on the back cover might make one think that this CD is compiled with tracks from earlier Smith releases on Storyville, that is not the case, as only one song has previously appeared anywhere, while most of the repertoire will be familiar to his longtime fans. Smith is heard in five different settings. The opening selection, the violinist's "Stand by Blues," pairs him with Dutch violinist Paul Olson, pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Niels Pedersen, and drummer Alex Riel (his regular rhythm section). Smith's bluesy dissonant sound contrasts with the more conventional style of his partner. Smith uses the same rhythm section for the next two songs, including an upbeat swinging setting of "How High the Moon" with terrific solos by Smith, Drew, and Pedersen (the latter who was a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday at the time). Smith is joined by two violinists, Ellington sideman Ray Nance and Søren Christiansen, for "Soft Winds," a fun performance in spite of the uneven sound (due to an aged source tape) and editing to remove an obnoxious voice-over by a hapless announcer. The violin trio is also heard on "When You're Smiling," while Smith alone plays his relative tame "Swinging Softly." Several additional tracks feature Smith and Christiansen sharing the vocals, while the only previously issued track, "Oh, Lady Be Good," pairs Smith with the Danish violinist Svend Asmussen (who often played the lower-pitched tenor violin in sessions with other violinists to provide great contrast, as he does here). This good-natured performance features fun vocals, scatting, very swinging solos, and lots of trading of fours. Smith scholar Anthony Barnett, who composed a bio-discography of the violinist and has also issued several rare Smith sessions on his own AB Fable label, contributed the informative liner notes. This CD will be of great interest to fans of Stuff Smith.

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