Music on My Mind Willie 'The Lion' Smith

Album info



Label: MPS Classical

Genre: Jazz

Subgenre: Ragtime

Album including Album cover


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  • 1Moonlight Cocktail03:03
  • 2Junk Man Rag00:18
  • 3Pork and Beans03:01
  • 4Memories of You03:27
  • 5Shine03:51
  • 6Oh You Devil02:55
  • 7Keeping out of Mischief Now01:16
  • 8Rockin' in Rhythm00:35
  • 9Solitude02:50
  • 10Sophisticated Lady01:21
  • 11At Sundown01:57
  • 12Swingin' Down the Lane01:06
  • 13Lady Be Good01:05
  • 14Some of These Days04:17
  • 1512Th Street Rag02:39
  • 16Theme Song01:02
  • Total Runtime34:43

Info for Music on My Mind

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." (Ken Dryden, AMG)

Willie "The Lion" Smith, piano
Willie "The Lion" Smith, vocals (on tracks 14, 15)

Recorded November 30, 1965 in Paris

Digitally remastered

Willie "The Lion" Smith
was one of the fathers of the stride piano style. During the 1920s he was a sort of underground figure, who gained a reputation as a hot piano player by providing the music for rent parties in the private homes and small clubs of Harlem. He recorded rarely during the 1920s, but was the first musical director of Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds and is the pianist on Crazy Blues, the first Blues record released in 1920. Smith was a major influence on Duke Ellington who later went on to write the songs "Portrait of the Lion"and "Second Portrait of the Lion" in honor of him. Smith didn't make any recordings under his own name until the mid-1930s, but played on several of Perry Bradford's sessions like Georgia Strutters, The Gulf Coast Seven and The Blue Rhythm Orchestra. Throughout his career he led few bands, preferring the life of a solo performer, but he remained very active in music until his death in 1973.

This album contains no booklet.

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