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Stuff Smith: Five Fine Violins Celebrating 100 Years

Chris Mosey By

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Featured here in his twilight years, violinist Hezekiah Leroy Gordon "Stuff" Smith was born in Portsmouth, Ohio in 1909. Before he died in Denmark in 1967, he became one of the jazz world's most colorful characters, performing on occasion with a parrot on his shoulder and playing with everyone from Alphonso Trent's minstrel band to Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson.

Career-wise, Stuff Smith peaked with his Onyx Club Boys in the 1930s, when he set out to corner the market with songs that serenaded Mary Jane, such as "I'se A Muggin" and the more specific "You'se A Viper" and "Here Comes The Man With The Jive."

Thirty years on there is still evidence of his impish wit on these Danish Radio takes, in which he is featured with fellow American Ray Nance—who played both trumpet and violin with Duke Ellington—and local fiddlers Svend Asmussen, Poul Olsen and Søren Christensen.

The opener, Smith's own rambunctious "Stand By Blues" (which he sometimes called "Old Stinkin' Blues"), was recorded in March 1965 soon after his arrival in Denmark. He is backed by what was then the house rhythm section at Copenhagen's Montmartre jazz club—fellow American Kenny Drew on hard-swinging piano, the phenomenal Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass and Alex Riel on drums.

Next on the agenda are "How High The Moon" and Smith's own "Timme's Blues," formerly known as "Play," but re-titled as a tribute to Danish jazz enthusiast Count Timme Rosenkrantz, who the irrepressible Smith refers to in an introduction as "my manager." These cuts were recorded a month later, minus Riel, who missed the gig because of confusion regarding start time.

Nance visited Copenhagen in 1966 and is featured here with Smith from three Danish Radio takes, this time with a different (and inferior)) all-local rhythm section. Fletcher Henderson's "Soft Winds" and Smith's "Swingin' Softly" still manage to hit the spot before descending into the bathos of "When You're Smiling" with awful (but forgivable) vocals by the two Americans, aided and abetted by Christensen.

There's another version of "Swingin' Softly" and a knockabout "Ain't She Sweet" before Smith teams up with Asmussen and things heat up a little with Ellington's "C Jam Blues" and Juan Tizol's "Caravan," where Asmussen plays tenor violin, pitched an octave lower than a standard fiddle.

"Timme's Blues" returns—this time with rather nondescript, suggestive lyrics—before the closer, a rousing and irreverent look at George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin's "Oh, Lady, Be Good."

If it all falls a bit short of the rather portentous title, it's nonetheless very good fun—something that most jazz simply isn't nowadays.

Track Listing: Stand By Blues; How High The Moon; Timme's Blues; Soft Winds; Swingin' Softly; When You're Smiling; Swingin' Softly; Ain't She Sweet?; C Jam Blues; Caravan; Timme's Blues; Oh, Lady, Be Good!

Personnel: Stuff Smith: violins; Ray Nance: violin; Svend Asmussen: violin; Poul Olsen; Søren Christensen: violin; Kenny Drew: piano (1-3); Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: bass (1-3); Alex Riel: drums (1-3); Jørgen Borch: piano (4-12); Erik Mølbak: bass (4-12); Bjarne Rostvold: drums (4-12).

Title: Five Fine Violins Celebrating 100 Years | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Storyville Records

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