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Stuff Smith: The Complete Verve Stuff Smith Sessions

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Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Sven Asmussen, and Eddie South were all great violinists, but their styles were, to varying degrees, tied to legitimate technique. Stuff Smith was the first to develop a purely jazz conception for the instrument. Influenced by Armstrong and others, Smith developed an approach that featured a foreshortened bow-stroke that he felt helped him phrase like a horn. He also modified the classical vibrato along the lines of Louis. But mere technical considerations don’t explain the most apparent aspect of his music; he swung harder than not only any other fiddler, but as hard as pretty much anyone you can think of. He achieved prominence when he formed the Onyx Club Boys in 1936. This sextet, which teamed Smith with (Jonah) Jones, was as much jive as jazz, but no one ever said that Fats Waller wasn’t great, and the best late-’30’s Smith is just as irresistible.

Like many of his generation, Smith had been largely forgotten by the Fifties, but this set should help clarify his position as not just a great swinger but a musical free spirit whose style transcended the swing-to-bop barrier and flirted at times with the avant garde. He certainly didn’t mind breaking rules when it came to harmony, his penchant for parallel fifth double-stops being the most obvious example.

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