Sunday, 4 April 2010

Stride Piano III - Willie The Lion Smith

Willie “The Lion” Smith is another proponent of the stride piano style. He is also credited with playing on the song, “Crazy Blues”, regarded as the first recored blues song. Recorded by Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds in New York in October 1920, it was perhaps the first record aimed directly at African American consumers.


Smith it seems was very much an underground figure in the Harlem scene in the 1920’s, though no less an influence on jazz for it. Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk cite him as a major influence (Ellington wrote a couple of songs in his honour.) He didn’t actually record as a solo artist until the 30’s but he had a long career stretching as far as the 1970s.

He cut quite a figure with his derby hat, checked waistcoat and ever present cigar. His technique was quite simply breathtaking. It almost sounds as if there are two people playing at once. Check out the aptly named “Fingerbuster”, which he originally recorded in 1939.

NPR have done a great documentary on Willie The Lion Smith. It includes a great explanation of stride piano.

No comments: