344

Willie "The Lion" Smith & Don Ewell: Stride Piano Duets—Live in Toronto, 1966

Jerry D'Souza By

Sign in to view read count
Willie "The Lion" Smith was one of the great stride pianists whose style and approach were an inspiration to many. His ideas were fermented by a larger-than-life presence that he transfused into his playing. He also transmitted his unabashed exuberance to his audience. The power of his playing and his animation come to the fore on this recording with Don Ewell.

Ewell was a stride pianist in a class of his own. He may not be as well known as Smith, but his articulate phrasing and sense of timing gave his music a fine balance. He turned out to be the right foil for Smith when circumstance brought the two together.

Ewell was living in Toronto in 1966 when promoter David Gillman heard him at the Golden Nugget. Gillman brought Ewell and Smith together for the first time in June 1966. As reports go, the two hit it off right away. That was good enough reason for a live recording at the Golden Nugget later that year. None of the music on this CD has been released before.

Smith and Ewell turn out to be exceptional cohorts. They transform a tune through pulse and emphasis, in the way they steer chord changes, in their melodic runs and the expanse they ride, particularly with their left hands.

The irrepressible Smith establishes a rapport right off as he introduces the theme of the evening "Relaxin.'" He sings wordlessly and as the tune is given a bouncing spark, the two invent phrases on the go. It's the beacon for what is to come.

That beacon leads to 14 well-chosen tunes showing how prolific Smith and Ewell were. While their individual styles were distinct, they wove them together seamlessly through their sense of harmony. "Twelfth Street Rag" serves as a prime example. The way they intertwine the melody line, the meshing of the chords, the slight shift of tempo, speaks immeasurably for the art of surprise.

Smith hits it right on with "Here Comes The Band." He is in his element on this solo outing, showing precisely why he came to be revered with his molding of the melody and the chords he brings into play. He lets out his vaudeville side on the songs "Linger Awhile/Shine" and "If I Could Be With You" showing a versatile showbiz personality.

Ewell and Smith made a fine team, and even if it was brief, it will be everlasting in its impact.


Track Listing: Relaxin’; Blue Skies; I Found A New Baby; Tea For Two; Charleston; You’re Driving Me Crazy; Here Comes The Band; Sweet Georgia Brown; Georgia On My Mind; Linger Awhile/Shine; If I Could Be With You; Just You, Just Me; Squeeze Me; Twelfth Street Rag.

Personnel: Willie “The Lion” Smith: piano, vocals; Don Ewell: piano.

Title: Stride Piano Duets—Live in Toronto, 1966 | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Delmark Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read For the Love of You CD/LP/Track Review For the Love of You
by Jack Bowers
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Recent Developments CD/LP/Track Review Recent Developments
by John Sharpe
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Triple Double CD/LP/Track Review Triple Double
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Agrima CD/LP/Track Review Agrima
by Jerome Wilson
Published: October 21, 2017
Read The Study of Touch CD/LP/Track Review The Study of Touch
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 20, 2017
Read Another North CD/LP/Track Review Another North
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 19, 2017
Read "Copenhagen Live 1964" CD/LP/Track Review Copenhagen Live 1964
by Mark Corroto
Published: May 30, 2017
Read "Rhythmic Movement" CD/LP/Track Review Rhythmic Movement
by Karl Ackermann
Published: December 22, 2016
Read "Incidentals" CD/LP/Track Review Incidentals
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: September 23, 2017
Read "Trip" CD/LP/Track Review Trip
by Jeff Winbush
Published: September 12, 2017
Read "How to Build a City" CD/LP/Track Review How to Build a City
by Jim Olin
Published: January 1, 2017
Read "Still" CD/LP/Track Review Still
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 23, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.