Lion: Live

Willie "The Lion" Smith

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Lion: Live Review

by Scott Yanow

Willie "The Lion" Smith was one of the big three of the stride pianists of the 1920s along with James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. He survived much longer than Johnson and Waller and was still a colorful figure into the late '60s. This double CD preserves virtually an entire concert from 1949, one featuring Smith as a soloist and with a trio. The recording quality is just OK, the talking between songs is only worth hearing once, and Smith makes the mistake of singing on a few occasions. However, his piano playing is excellent, with such songs as "I've Found a New Baby," "Echoes of Spring," Chopin's Polonaise, "Honeysuckle Rose," "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," and "Tea for Two" being among the high points. The overall results fall short of being essential, but fans of both stride pianists and Smith's own impressionistic style will enjoy this formerly rare material.

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