Willie "The Lion" Smith

Live at Blues Alley

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This intimate continuous live nightclub recital stands among the very best latter-day recordings by Harlem stride piano master Willie "The Lion" Smith, archetype and co-founder of the style itself. "Washington cigars taste funny," he mutters while chomping a stogie and MCing his own act. Surrounded by a small crowd of sweet, slightly tipsy senior citizens, the Lion introduces Maceo Pinkard's "Sweet Georgia Brown" as by "Maceo Pinkeye," honors a request for Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose" and chases it down with "Squeeze Me," sings "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," reveals the seldom-heard lyrics to "Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble," and proudly serves up several of his own original compositions. Arguably more charmed and personable than its sequel album, Relaxin', Live at Blues Alley leaves the listener with the peculiar impression of having actually been there sitting beside this WWI veteran while he entertained, explained, elucidated, expostulated, and extemporized. Long overdue for CD reissue.