His 48 Finest
RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4368
[77:25 + 79:56]
Track list at end of review.
Before the advent of Bebop (and Charlie Parker with it) the three
pre-eminent alto-saxophonists in jazz were Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges and
Willie Smith. Though now less well-known than his two peers, Smith was a
supremely talented musician, at the very top of the tree, both as a soloist
and as a section leader. He also an impressive clarinetist (he played
baritone sax from time to time), as well as being an occasional vocalist
(he can be heard singing on the opening track of this pair of CDs ( CD1:1). Christened William Mcleish Smith, as a young man
he studied chemistry at Fisk University in Nashville. As a musician he
first came to wide recognition with the Jimmie Lunceford band, which he
joined at the time of its foundation in 1929. Indeed, his work with that
band, perhaps especially as the leader of a very well prepared (by Smith)
saxophone section, as well as his contributions as a soloist, he was a
major factor in the band’s considerable success.
Smith was with the Lunceford band from 1929 to 1942 and this compilation by
Ray Crick contains some of Smith’s very best recordings with Lunceford. He
left Lunceford regretfully, unhappy with poor pay and worked for a while
with Charlie Spivak, before spending some years with Harry James’ big band.
In 1951 he spent a year with Duke Ellington, replacing an absent Johnny
Hodges. This was followed by some time with the orchestra led by trumpeter
and arranger Billy May, sometimes working in the Hollywood studios, prior
to rejoining James in 1954. He made occasional appearances in Norman
Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts; by the 1960s his
alcoholism had caught up with him. He died of cancer in March 1967.
This compilation of Smith’s work is a model of its kind. Such things can
never, by their very nature, be comprehensive, but when I could,
with difficulty, think of one or two pieces I would have liked to have seen
included I realized that I wouldn’t have been able to make a good case for
what would have to be omitted to make room for them! The restored sound is
consistently excellent, and the set benefits from the sort of knowledgeable
and perceptive essay we have come to expect from Digby Fairweather. If I
had one quibble it was with the severe abridgement of two of the JATP
tracks (CD1:12 and CD2:21), though one
has to acknowledge that if these had been included at full length (and
these tracks are available elsewhere) other recordings of value
would have had to make way for them.
There are many important recordings here, showing Smith at his best, such
as ‘Sophisticated Lady’ (CD1:2) on which Smith plays
clarinet (and he was also responsible for the arrangement); Smith’s alto
solos on ‘Tuxedo Junction’(CD2:10) and ‘It’s Been A Long,
Long Time’ (CD1:17), to take just two examples, are surely
comparable to even the very best of Hodges and Carter? Personal favourites
of mine are Smith’s work on ‘Stardust’ with Lionel Hampton (CD2:9) and a delightful version of ‘Caravan’ (CD2:17) in which Smith and Juan Tizol are supported by both Ellington and Strayhorn! But there are many ‘discoveries’ to
be made on these two discs. So, for example, admirers of Harry James will
find much to enjoy here, as will those who, like me, are fond of Juan
Tizol’s valve-trombone. I was intrigued, too, to hear Dodo Marmarosa
accompanying Smith (CD2:11-13). I hadn’t heard the final
track of the whole set, Nat Cole’s ‘I Was a little Too Lonely’, for some
time. What a delight to be reminded of it!
In short, it is hard to imagine a better case than this being made for
Willie Smith than is made here. I am grateful to all concerned in its
production – especially Ray Crick, Digby Fairweather and Martin Haskell for
“audio restoration and remastering”. As seems always to be the case with
issues from Retrospective, the documentation is first rate and the discs
are very generously filled.
Willie Smith (alto sax, clarinet) with
1.Rhythm Is our Business [3:11]
2.Sophisticated Lady [3:05]
3.Rose Room [2:59]
4.Sleepy Time Gal [3:08]
6.Ain’t She Sweet [2:27]
7.Uptown Blues [2:52]
8.Blue Blazes [2:49]
9. What’s Your Story, Morning Glory? [3:09]
10.Blues in the Night [2:35]
Jimmie Lunceford & his Orchestra: Personnel includes Sy Oliver Gerald
Wilson, Snooky Young (trumpets), Trummy Young (trombone), Eddie Durham
(trombone, guitar) Joe Thomas, Dan Grissom, Ted Buckner (reeds), Al Norris
(violin, guitar), Jimmy Crawford (drums, vibes). Rec. December
11.I’m Confessin That I Love You [3:21]
HARRY JAMES & SEXTET: Harry James (trumpet), Arnold Ross (piano), Allen
Reuss (guitar), Ed Mihelich (bass), Nick Fatool or Carl Maus (drums). Rec/
Los Angeles November 21, 1944.
12.How High the Moon [2:14]
JAZZ AT THE Philharmonic: Joe Guy, Howard McGhee (trumpets), Illinois
Jacquet, Charlie Ventura (tenor saxes), Garland Finney (piano), Ulysses
Livingston (guitar), Red Callender (bass), Gene Krupa (drums). Rec.
February 12, 1945, Philharmonic Auditorium, Los Angeles.
13.September in the Rain [3:05]
14.You Oughta Be in Pictures [2:36]
15.Willie, Weep For Me [3:02]
16.Moten Swing [2:59]
Willie Smith & His Orchestra: Billy May (trumpet), Murray McEachern
(trombone), Arnold Ross (piano), Les Paul (guitar), Ed Mihelich (bass),
Dave Coleman (drums, 13), Nick Fatool (drums, 14-16). Rec. Los Angeles, May
17.It’s Been A Long, Long Time [3:20]
Harry james & His Orchestra: Personnel includes Harry James, Al Ramsey
(trumpets), Chuck Preble (trombone), Juan Tizol (valve-trombone), Corky
Corcoran, George Davis (reeds), Arnold Ross (piano). Rec. July 24, 1945,
18.I Never Knew that Roses Grew [7:49]
19.All the Things you Are [3:00]
WILLIE SMITH & HIS SIX: Buddy Childers (trumpet), Vido Musso (tenor
sax), André Previn (piano), Eddie Safranski (bass), Lee Young (drums). Rec.
November 5, 1945, Los Angeles.
20.I’ve Found A New Baby [2:32]
22. Windjammer [2:58]
WILLIE SMITH & SEXTET: Howard Mcghee (Trumpet), Lucky Thompson (tenor
sax), Arnold Ross (piano), Eddie Safranski (bass), Lee young (drums). Rec.
November 12, 1945, Los Angeles.
23.Who’s Sorry Now? [3:29]
Harry James & HIS ORCHESTRA: Personnel includes James, Red Berken
(trumpets), Chuck Preble, Ray Heath (trombone), Juan Tizol
(valve-trombone), Corky Corcoran, George Davis (reeds), Arnold Ross
(piano), Haydn Causey (guitar) Ed Mihelich (bass), Nick Fatool (drums).
Rec. December 19, 1945, Los Angeles.
24.The Way You Look Tonight [3:00]
1.I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me [3:01]
2.My Old Flame [2;58]
3.Airiness A La Nat [2:33]
THE KEYNOTERS: Nat King Cole [as ‘Lord Calvert’] (piano), Red Callender
(bass), Jackie Mills (drums). Rec. February 16, 1946, Los Angeles.
4.I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good [3:14]
Ivie Anderson and her All Stars: Anderson (vocal), Karl George (trumpet),
Gene Porter (tenor sax), Buddy Collete (baritone sax), Wilbert Baranco
(piano), Buddy Harper (guitar), Charles Mingus (bass), Booker Hart (drums).
Rec January 1946, Los Angeles.
Juan TIZOL & HIS ORCHESTRA: Dick Cathcart (trumpet), Tizol
(valve-trombone), Babe Russin (tenor sax), Arnold Ross (piano), Irving
Ashby (guitar), Ed Mihelich (bass), Nick Fatool
(drums). Rec. April 7, 1946, Los Angeles.
6. Keb-Lah [3:18]
7.East Coast Blues [3:14]
HARRY JAMES & HIS ORCHESTRA: Personnel includes James, Red Berken
(trumpets),Chuck Preble, Ziggy Elmer (trombones), Juan Tizol
(valve-trombone), Polly Polfrani, Corky Corcoran (reeds), Arnold Ross 
Stan Wrightsman  (piano), Hayden Cousley, Tiny Timbrell (guitar), Ed Mihelich (bass), Buddy Combine (drums), plus
string section. Rec. September 13, 1946, Los Angeles (track 6) and June 22,
1947, Los Angeles (track 7).
8.Cotton Tail [2:48]
HARRY JAMES & HIS OCTET: James (trumpet), Ziggy Elmer (trombone), Eddie
Rosa (clarinet), Stan Wrightsman (piano), Tiny Timbrell (guitar), Ed
Mihelich (bass), Buddy Combine (drums). Rec. June 25, 1947, Los Angeles.
9.Stardust [2:15] (Smith’s solo only)
LIONEL HAMPTON & HIS JUST JAZZ ALL STARS: Charlie Shavers (trumpet),
Corky Corcoran (tenor sax), Tommy Todd (piano), Hampton (vibes), Barney
Kessel (guitar), Slam Stewart (bass), Lee Young (drums). Rec. August 4,
10.Tuxedo Junction [6:37]
HENRY JAMES & HIS OCTET: James (trumpet), Ziggy Elmer (trombone), Eddie
Rosa (clarinet), Bruce MacDonald (piano), Tiny Timbrell (guitar), Ed
Mihelich (bass), Buddy Combine (drums).Rec. November 3, 1947, Los Angeles.
11.Not So Bop Blues [2:55]
12.Tea for Two [3:11]
13.Sophisticated Lady [4:10]
WILLIE SMITH & HIS QUINTET: Dodo Marmarosa (piano), Barney Kessel (guitar), Red Callender (bass), jo jones
(drums). Rec. c. November 1947, Los Angeles.
14.New Two O’Clock Jump [5:16]
15.Deep Purple [2:55]
HARRY JAMES & HIS ORCHESTRA: Personnel includes James, Nick Buono
(trumpets), Ziggy Elmer (trombone), Juan Tizol (valve-trombone), Corky
Corcoran, Bob Poland (reeds), Bruce MacDonald (piano), Bob Stone (bass),
Jackie Mills (drums). Rec. June 19, 1950, New York (track 14) and July 10,
1950, New York (track 15).
16. Please Be Kind [3:10]
DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Personnel includes, Cat Anderson,
Shorty baker (trumpets), ray Nance (trumpet and violin), Quentin Jackson,
Britt woodman, Juan Tizol (trombones), Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope,
Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney (reeds), Ellington (piano), Wendell Marshall
(bass), Louie Bellson (drums), Rec.August 7, 1951, New York.
17. Caravan [2:51]
DUKE ELLINGTON-BILLY STRAYHORN & THEIR ALL STARS: Juan Tizol
(trombone), Ellington (piano), Strayhorn (organ), Wendell Marshall (bass),
Louie Bellson (drums). Rec. June 1, 1951, New York.
18.Indian Summer [2:41]
BILLY STRAYHORN & HIS ALL-STARS ‘THE CORONETS’: Quentin Jackson, Britt
Woodman, Juan Tizol (trombones), Strayhorn (piano), Wendell Marshall
(bass), Louie Bellson (drums). Rec. May 18, 1951, Boston.
19.Coronation Hop [2:50]
GENE KRUPA & HIS SEXTET: Charlie Shavers (trumpet), Teddy Wilson
(piano), Steve Jordan (guitar), Israel Crosby (bass), Krupa (drums). Rec.
April 14, 1953, New York.
21.Cool Blues [3:12] Smith’s solo only
22.The Young Man With a Horn (Ballad Medley, part 6) [2:23]
JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC: Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge (trumpets), Bill
Harris (trombone), Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Flip Phillips (reeds), Oscar
Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), J.C. Heard (drums)
Rec. live, September 19, 1953, Carnegie Hall, New York.
23. Perdido [3:15)
HARRY JAMES & HIS ORCHESTRA Personnel includes: James, Nick Buono,
Conrad Gozzo (trumpets), Juan Tizol (valve-trombone), Herb Lorden, Bob
Poland (reeds), Larry Kinnamon (piano), Allen Reuss (guitar), Buddy Hayes
(bass), Louie Bellson (drums), Rec. February 15, 1955, Los Angeles.
24. I Was a Little Too Lonely [2:58]
NAT KING COLE & QUINTET: COLE: Cole (piano, vocal), John Collins
(guitar), Charlie Harris (bass), Lee Young (drums), Rec. September 14,
1956, Los Angeles.