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Tab Smith: Top ‘N’ Bottom

Consisting largely of previously unissued tracks, this third volume in Delmark’s series of altoman Smith’s 1951-57 output on the United label further enhances his long forgotten reputation as one of Johnny Hodges’ most readily identifiable disciples. A Swing Era veteran of high stature, with credits including tenures with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, Frankie Newton, Count Basie and Lucky Millinder, Tab might best be remembered for his arresting solos on Coleman Hawkins’ Sax Ensemble date for Keynote in May 1944, unquestionably his strongest claim for attention prior to the popular and influential juke box-oriented sides he recorded for United.

As is well-known by now, the 1950s were fallow times indeed for saxmen disinclined to follow the Parker gospel, but, like several of his contemporaries, Tab found a successful niche in what is now called, in academic circles at least, African-American social music. What this means in short is that he concentrated on recording simply conceived blues, ballads and riff tunes designed primarily for dancing, both booty-shaking and pelvis-grinding. In this design, he followed suit with such better known peers as Louis Jordan and Earl Bostic, but history rarely recalls this.

Overall, his music is of nowhere near such importance as that of Hodges or Parker, but those of us who delight in the pronouncements of such gifted apostles of theirs as Willie Smith and Charles McPherson will also find pleasure in Tab Smith.

Originally Published