Bessie Smith

The Quintessence "The Empress": 1923 - 1933

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Bessie Smith's memory is well-served by Fremeaux's two-CD set, which samples many of her best moments on record from her ten-year career, beginning with her first issued side from February 1923 and ending with one example from her last date in November 1933. As is usual for this label, the contents were well chosen for the purposes of a selected overview. Smith recorded with many of the greatest jazz players of her generation, including James P. Johnson and members of Fletcher Henderson's orchestra. She interacted beautifully with cornetists Louis Armstrong, Joe Smith, and Tommy Ladnier, and uncommonly well with trombonist Charlie Green, whose phrasing and temperament were perfectly suited to her personality. One great example of that shared dynamic is the two-part "Empty Bed Blues" of 1928. Had she lived longer, it is quite likely that this singer would have expanded her repertoire to include larger quantities of jazz, as evidenced by her collaborations with James P. Johnson (especially "Back Water Blues" and "Wasted Life Blues"), and with various small groups led by Henderson and Buck Washington. This collection may serve as an ideal introduction to her artistry. Those who fall in love with her honesty and passionate delivery may wish to investigate her complete recorded works as reissued by Columbia, Classics, or JSP.

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