Willie "The Lion" Smith

Lion Roars

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This 1957 session features Willie "The Lion" Smith playing his unmistakable stride piano intermixed with an interview by Leonard Feather, who also produced the recording. The first side is all solo piano, including a formidable interpretation of James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout" and his tribute to Duke Ellington, "Portrait of the Duke," which was composed shortly after Ellington's "Portrait of the Lion." Smith also delves into ragtime (which he insists is a part of jazz), boogie-woogie (though his "Lion's Boogie Woogie" is far more complex harmonically than typical fare), and a joyful, though brief, take on Fats Waller's "Squeeze Me," while recalling his fury when initially meeting this boisterous youngster in a greasy suit. Bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Osie Johnson (who sticks to brushes) are added for most of the remaining tracks, although Smith takes his best-known work, "Echo of Spring," as a solo. This LP concludes with Smith's quick dismissal of the idea that jazz was born in New Orleans and rival Jelly Roll Morton's abilities as a pianist ("He talked a lot but he couldn't back it up"), but he takes time to praise Bud Powell, Erroll Garner, and Billy Taylor, as well as his own student, Mike Lipskin. The bizarre ending to this album is a brief chorus of "Relaxin'" (Smith's theme song) on an electric organ. This long-out-of-print record will command a premium price if it can be found at all.