Willie "The Lion" Smith

Willie “The Lion” Smith was one of the major stride pianists of the 1920s, a contemporary and friend of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Born as William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith in 1893, he was a professional by the time he was a teenager. A major part of the Harlem jazz scene, Smith developed his own personal brand of stride piano. While he could play fast and hot, his own compositions were often impressionistic, sophisticated and haunting. Smith remained active until his death in 1973 and he was considered a lovable figure.

This CD features Willie “The Lion” Smith in 1949. Eight numbers are piano solos and four are duets with drummer Wallace Bishop, highlighted by Smith’s “Echo Of Spring,” “Portrait Of The Duke,” James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout” and “Conversations On Park Avenue.” In addition, there are four numbers jammed in a quartet with Bishop, trumpeter Buck Clayton and clarinetist Claude Luter. The music is joyful, swinging, sometimes quite touching, and timeless.


SKU: IC7015

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Echo of Spring Portait of the Duke Madelon Darktown Strutters' Ball Carolina Shout Charleston Contrary Motion Late Hours Here Comes The Band Get Together Blues Pretty Baby Zig Zag Conversation On Park Avenue Ain't Misbehavin' Stormy Weather I'm Gonna Rise the Rest of the Way

Additional Info

Additional Info

Format: Jazz Record
Soloist/Artist Willie "The Lion" Smith
Instruments Music and Musicians
Composer No
Accompanist/ Conductor No
SKU IC7015


Customer Reviews (2)

"The Lion's A King"Review by Big Toots
IC 7015 Willie “The Lion” Smith

There’s no doubt that back in Smith’s day important events – say World War I in Willie’s case – had major impact on the lives of those who experienced them. It was claimed that Willie’s bravery in the service in the Great War was the origin of his leonine nickname. Whether verifiable or not, Smith probably would have gained the moniker anyway from his virile and hell-bent method of playing the piano. And, in this marvelous aggregation Smith’s renditions recorded in late 1949 and early 1950 – including many of his originals – are a showcase for a pianistic style that roars.

Willie was fruit that grew from the James P. Johnson and Ragtime piano tree (as you hear on Johnson’s “Carolina Shout” and elsewhere). Heavily entrenched in syncopation and a “hard left,” Smith’s style was upbeat and virtually polyrhythmic. Compare his “Ain’t Misbehavin’ here with Waller’s classic. His verbal “commentary” as heard here only added to the color of his playing (“Portrait of the Duke,” “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”) – and the stogie and bowler only enhanced the presentation (“Here Comes the Band”). Subtlety was not the order of the day when Smith played. Even the slower material here has a fluidity and energy to it (“Late Hours,””Get Together Blues” and “Stormy Weather” with trumpeter Buck Clayton and clarinetist Claude Luter joining in).

Compositionally, Smith’s writing was effervescent and invigorating (“Echoes of Spring,” “Contrary Motion”). Although he loved boxing and boxers, Smith pulled no punches either when he played, sang or composed.

While Smith was there but inadvertently missing from the classic photograph known as “A Great Day in Harlem,” this superb recording demonstrates that this cat was indeed a “great” – a lion in both name and substance.
(Posted on 6/5/2015)
Willie "The Lion" SmithReview by Simon Sez
Willie “The Lion” Smith first became famous in the 1920s when he played all over Harlem at parties with his buddies James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. After they were finished at the piano, there were very few who had the courage and foolhardiness to try to follow them. While James P. and Fats played with power and intensity, The Lion often threw in a curve ball by performing one of his very sophisticated original ballads. Some of his songs such as “Echo Of Spring” gave one the impression that he was writing beautiful music for a film or a Broadway play.
The Lion’s Inner City album is from the late 1940s and has him playing duets with a drummer and with a quartet that includes Buck Clayton. Best are Smith’s versions of his own tunes including “Contrary Motion,” “Zig Zag,” “Conversations On Park Avenue” (love that title!) and “Echo Of Spring.” Bebop may have been the new form of jazz at the time, but Willie “The Lion” Smith shows that his own playing was classic and never needed to be “updated.”

Simon Sez: When it came to stride piano and creating beautiful sophisticated melodies, Willie “The Lion” Smith (IC7015) was near the top.
(Posted on 5/6/2014)

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