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These two albums give us snapshots of violinist and vocalist Stuff Smith at the apex and finale of his career in jazz. That career started in the '20s - when he, like all musicians of his era, was influenced by Louis Armstrong - and ended with his death in 1967, a couple of years after most of the Storyville material was recorded. In between he was a major star of the Swing Era late '30s, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Sun Ra and in Norman Granz tours in the '40s-50s and settled in Europe (mainly Copenhagen) in the '60s.
The Complete Tenor Sax Septets reflects only part of the material presented. Also included are rare (and for the most part poorly recorded) air checks of a band of Fats Waller sidemen (Waller was touring solo at the time) he led in 1942; some air checks from a radio show featuring Smith with singer Helen Ward; and a Teddy Wilson band in 1937 and a jam session with Wilson, Lionel Hampton and others in 1941. The Waller sidemen sides are notable for Smith's raucous solos and for some of the longest Al Casey electric guitar solos ever captured - the best is on "Our Jump , a variation of "One O'Clock Jump . The recordings by Smith's band from 1939-40, although featuring a tenor saxophonist, are notable for the competition between Smith and trumpeter Jonah Jones as instrumentalists. But as these were commercial recordings and Smith was a hit maker as a vocalist, almost all of the tracks feature extensive, often novelty, vocals a la Fats Waller or Sy Oliver's arrangements.
The Masters of Jazz CD on Storyville collects tracks from a handful of albums Smith made for the label when he was living in Copenhagen. They provide cogent evidence that he never abandoned his daredevil approach and ferocious swing attack on the violin. His wide vibrato and gruff tone (akin to a tenor sax in many ways) is strikingly evident on the six tracks (of a total 14) where he is joined by one of two Scandinavian jazz violinists, Svend Asmussen and Poul Olsen. There's no mistaking Smith's signature sound: big, hoarse, broad and roaringly swinging. The others sound light and airy in comparison, but that contrast makes the music more enjoyable. Also adding to the enjoyment on eight tracks is the extraordinary rhythm section of the Montmartre club in Copenhagen at that time: Kenny Drew (piano); Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (bass) and Alex Riel (drums).
Tracks and Personnel
The Complete Tenor Sax Septets
Masters of Jazz
Tracks: Caravan; Only Time Will Tell; Bugle Blues; Take The A Train; Skip It; C Jam Blues; Timme's Blues; Oh, Lady Be Good; One O'clock Jump; How High The Moon; Swing' Bach; Late Woman Blues; Body And Soul; On The Sunny Side Of The Street.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.