Willie "The Lion" Smith was pretty busy for a 70-year-old man on November 8, 1966. After the veteran Harlem stride master performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival, he recorded an extended solo set, some of which was featured on the Black Lion release Pork and Beans. The remaining music, with only a slight overlap, is featured on this LP, which was issued only in Europe. Before an invited audience in the studio, with his wife Lady Jane at his side, Smith reminisces and introduces each tune as only he could, with the same flair that he played piano. He may have been a little past his prime at this point in his life, but he is still the consummate entertainer as he plays a medley of Luckey Roberts' works, including "Moonlight Cocktail," "Junk Man Rag," and "Pork and Beans." The program also includes a medley of Duke Ellington songs ("Rockin' in Rhythm," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Solitude"), Fats Waller's "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," and a romping "Shine," during which Smith makes comments and even adds a spirited vocal to captivate his audience, which is evidently in the booth outside the studio since there is no audible response. He also plays his obscure but delightful "Oh You Devil" and closes with his well-known theme song, "Relaxin'."
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden