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Jazz Remembered


Stuff Smith


Stuff Smith


Jeff 'Two-Tone Boogie'  from Preservers of Sound says: ‘think that another who is worthy of mentioning is the great Stuff Smith. Stuff was not a great technical player but he sure could play some great tunes and improvise excellently’.

Violinist and vocalist Stuff Smith was born Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith in Ohio in 1909. His father, also a violinist, taught him and Smith always said that his main influence was Louis Armstrong. At age fifteen, he won a music scholarship to Johnson C. Smith University, where he studied classical violin. By the 1920s he was playing with In the 1920s, he played in Texas as a member of Alphonse Trent's band in Texas, but then moved to New York where at the Onyx Club he established his sextet which included trumpeter Jonah Jones, clarinetist Buster Bailey, pianist Clyde Hart, and drummer Cozy Cole.

Listen to You'se A Viper from 1936.




In the 1930s he played with Coleman Hawkins, and the young Charlie Parker and later Sun Ra. Signing with the Vocalion label in 1936 he recorded as Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys and continued to record for both the Decca and Varsity labels as well as being featured on the Nat King Cole Trio album, After Midnight.

Here are Stuff Smith, Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson playing Things Ain't What They Used To Be.




There was a time when Sun Ra was working with violinist Stuff Smith and his trio. During a rehearsal with Stuff, Sunny brought out his new tape recording deck that recorded on paper tape. Many of these brittle but quality sound recordings have been preserved. Sun Ra introduces this unusual recording of Deep Purple where he talks about Stuff Smith before and after the music.




Apparently, Stuff was 'a devoted drinker and not exactly the easiest person to deal with, and frequently found himself at loggerheads with club owners, bookers, business people, and his fellow musicians, and his career suffered as a result.'

Despite some of his liaisons, Stuff was said to be critical of bebop and yet he was one the first violinists to use electric amplification techniques on a violin playing a "Vio-Lectric" model which was custom-built for him by the National Dobro Company. In 1965, Stuff Smith moved to Copenhagen and performed actively in Europe. Stuff found European audiences and musicians to be very receptive to his style, and he hooked up with violinists such as Jean-Luc Ponty and Stephane Grappelli, and also played with American expatriates. Probably as a result of his drinking he had part of his stomach and liver removed. He died in Munich in 1967 and is buried in Jutland, Denmark.

Here is a video from 1965, two years before he died, playing Bugle Call Blues in Denmark with 'The Montmartre Trio' - N.H. Ørsted Pedersen (bass), Kenny Drew (piano), Alex Riel (drums).




Click here for more about Stuff Smith.


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