Various Artists

Grand Piano

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This is a particularly well-conceived reissue, a two-CD set that brings back three complete piano sessions recorded for the Sackville label in Toronto. Willie "The Lion" Smith, who at the time of this February 20, 1967 date was the only survivor of the big three of early stride piano, performs duets with Don Ewell, one of the best stride pianists to emerge after World War II. The combination works quite well. While Smith displays a heavier touch than Ewell, their styles and approaches very much overlap and are quite complementary. There are many stomps on their set of old favorites which was originally released as Grand Piano. Claude Hopkins, who was a powerful stride pianist in the 1930s, had greatly lightened his touch by the time he recorded Soliloquy in 1972, sounding closer to Teddy Wilson than to Fats Waller. His set just has a few romps and is mostly taken at relaxed tempos. Sir Charles Thompson, a transition pianist between swing and bop, is in top form during the well-rounded program that resulted in Portrait of a Piano on March 18, 1984. His music ranges from Teddy Wilson-style swing and a remake of his famous "Robbins Nest" to some effective boogie-woogie, ballads, blues and hints of bop. Grand Piano is highly recommended to fans of vintage jazz piano, capturing four classic pianists in top form during later periods than one normally associates with them.

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