COMPACT DISC REVIEW

By

Jack Rummel

 

 

Stride Piano Duets

Willie “The Lion” Smith & Don Ewell

Delmark DE 249

 

Relaxin’ / Blue Skies / I Found A New Baby / Tea For Two / Charleston / You’re Driving Me Crazy / Here Comes The Band / Sweet Georgia Brown / Georgia On My Mind / Linger Awhile/Shine* / If I Could Be With You* / Just You, Just Me / Squeeze Me / Twelfth Street Rag. (*Vocals)

 

            I discovered Don Ewell at the same moment I discovered ragtime.   In 1956, my father brought home two LPs, one by Joe “Fingers” Carr and one by Ewell (“Music to Listen to Don Ewell By,” now re-released as Good Time Jazz CD12021), and I literally wore them both out.  Thus, I was excited when I received a Delmark press packet announcing the release of this CD.  Having now listened to it, my excitement still lingers, but with some reservations.

            Willie “The Lion” Smith possessed a persona that was almost larger than life.  A gifted composer with a unique style, his ego drove him to be the focus of any concert he played.  Ewell, by contrast, was naturally quiet (but was arguably the better pianist of the two), preferring to let his music speak for itself.  Thus this CD becomes The Lion’s show, with Ewell almost playing a secondary role.

            To complicate matters, this 1966 previously-unreleased recording was not taped in stereo, making it difficult to tell which player is taking the lead at any given time.  Also, Ewell was not above throwing in some of The Lion’s signature riffs, thus further muddying the waters.  Nevertheless, when these two giants of the keyboard join forces unrehearsed on tunes they know and love, some magic is bound to result.

            After a lazy start, the needle jumps on the excite-ometer when they hit I Found A New Baby, with good solid stride from both men.  Other equally upbeat numbers include Charleston , Here Comes The Band and Just You, Just Me, which are interspersed with some medium-paced stride numbers and a few cocktail-style ballads.  The playlist ends with the disc’s only bona fide rag, Twelfth Street Rag, but except for a brief passage in the middle where they pay homage to the original melody, the guys treat it as great improvisational fodder with only the basic chord structure to remind us of what we’re listening to.

            Fans of both Willie “The Lion” Smith and Don Ewell will want to add this CD to their libraries and there is no debating its important historical value.  The sound quality is fair to good and the liner notes give added background about the original recording session.  To really appreciate the prodigious talents of these two men, however, it is best to listen to solo recordings of each.

            Available for $14.98 plus postage from www.delmark.com .