Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith – Music On My Mind (1966/2016) [Qobuz FLAC 24bit/88,2kHz]

Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith – Music On My Mind (1966/2016)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/88,2 kHz  | Time – 34:43 minutes | 613 MB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz | Front Cover | © MPS

Known as “the Lion” of the Harlem piano style, Willi Smith was one of the fathers of stride, and a member in good standing of a coterie of certified jazz legends. Throughout the album Smith reminisces about the pianists who congregated in New York and proceeded to revolutionize jazz. His recollections about the music of “my good friends and my pals” as he plays their music are priceless glimpses into the Jazz Age of the ‘20s and ‘30s.

The first three pieces are by another one of the founders of Harlem stride, Luckey Roberts; next, Ubie Blake’s beautiful ballad Memories of You, as Smith humming parts of the melody, then Shine with Willi’s off-the-cuff comments and full-tilt ‘rag’ chorus. Smith displays his amazing stride technique on Oh You Devil, and hits the perfect lilting swing to Fats Waller’s hit Keeping Out of Mischief. The Lion plays a medley of three Duke Ellington pieces one after another, as Solitude segues into Sophisticated Lady. Willi’s singing on Some of these Days hints at what it must have been like at one of those whiskey-laced late-night Harlem rent parties. Willi peppers the classic 12th Street Rag with some Harlem stride, and ends with his Theme Song. There’s a cornucopia of jazz evergreens, the nostalgia of peering into the past, and the surprise that there are still discoveries to be made, from what is, after all, great music. The pieces function as an interconnected musical storybook; it is worthwhile to download the complete set.

Willie “The Lion” Smith was one of the last remaining giants from the stride piano era when he made this studio recording for Decca in 1965. Although seven of the 15 tracks are Smith’s compositions, they are not his better known works, adding to the value of this release. One can hear how a performance like the driving “In a Minor Groove” could have influenced Duke Ellington early in his career. There are also strong takes of oldies like “Ain’t She Sweet” and “Some of These Days,” along with an elaborate arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” that likely dazzled the composer if he had the opportunity to hear it during his many visits to Harlem. Smith delves into the works of his comrades in stride, including James P. Johnson’s demanding and unjustly obscure “Steeplechase” and protégé Fats Waller’s well-known “Honeysuckle Rose.

01 – Moonlight Cocktail
02 – Junk Man Rag
03 – Pork and Beans
04 – Memories of You
05 – Shine
06 – Oh You Devil
07 – Keeping out of Mischief Now
08 – Rockin’ in Rhythm
09 – Solitude
10 – Sophisticated Lady
11 – At Sundown
12 – Swingin’ Down the Lane
13 – Lady Be Good
14 – Some of These Days
15 – 12Th Street Rag
16 – Theme Song

Produced by Joachim E. Berendt. Engineered by Rolf Donner.
Recorded at a party in Villingen, Germany on November 8, 1966.

Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith – piano, vocals