Stuff Smith

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Stuff Smith (Photo: William P. Gottlieb )

Stuff Smith (born August 14, 1909 in Portsmouth , Ohio as Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith , † September 25, 1967 in Munich ) was an American jazz musician and violinist , band leader and singer. Alongside Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli, he is considered the most important violinist of the swing era.


Smith learned to play the violin at the age of six from his father, a violinist, and played in the family band (mother was a pianist). From 1924 he attended Johnson C. Smith University, originally to study classical music, but getting to know the music of Louis Armstrong caused a turn to jazz. In the 1920s he played in Alphonse Trent's band in Texas (briefly also with Jelly Roll Morton ), with whom he also went to Buffalo , where he founded his own band in the 1930s. His recordings from the Onyx Club in New York are famous, where he performed regularly with his quintet Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys from 1935 (recordings from 1936 to 1937). There were drummer Cozy Cole and trumpeter Jonah Jones , with whom he also toured and who also sang. Like his great role model (in his own words) Louis Armstrong, he also gave comical vocal interludes ( e.g. You's Yiper , I'se a Muggin ' ).

In March 1936, Smith had his only hit on the Billboard charts; the song "I'se a Muggin '" recorded for Vocalion reached number 19. The collaboration with Jonah Jones ended when he went to Hollywood in 1938. He also played with Coleman Hawkins, as well as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie , although he was critical of bebop . He is considered the first musician who amplified his violin electrically (during his Onyx Club days). In the 1950s he was back in California, performed more often as a soloist, recorded for Verve (including with Ella Fitzgerald , Dizzy Gillespie and in Violins no end with Oscar Peterson and Stéphane Grappelli ) and also took part in Nat King Cole 's After Midnight Sessions at Capitol . In 1965 he moved to Copenhagen , from where he toured a lot in Europe (including at the MPS- LP Violin Summit with Grappelli, Svend Asmussen , Kenny Drew , Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen , Jean-Luc Ponty ). At that time, however, he was already seriously ill.

He is said to have received the nickname Stuff because he addressed people in this way, whose names he could not remember.

The Onyx Club was on the corner of 35th West and 52nd Street. It opened as a speakeasy in 1927 and closed in 1949.

Discographic notes

  • Stuff Smith & His Onyx Club Boys 1936–1939 (Classics)
  • Stuff Smith 1939-1944 (Classics)
  • The Stuff Smith Trio (Progressive, 1943) with Jimmy Jones , John Levy
  • Stuff Smith 1944-1946 (Classics)
  • Stuff Smith / Dizzy Gillespie / Oscar Peterson (Verve, 1957) with Wynton Kelly , Red Callender , JC Heard
  • Violins No End - Stéphane Grappelli, Stuff Smith (Pablo Records, 1984)
  • Call On a Hot Fiddle (Verve, 1959)
  • late woman blues (Storyville, 1965)



  • Anthony Barnett Desert Sands: The Performances and Recordings of Stuff Smith: An Annotated Discography and Biographical Source Book. Lewes, East Sussex: Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers, 1995 ( Desert Sands was an album with the Oscar Peterson Trio)
  • Interview in Stanley Dance The world of swing 1979.
  • Stuff Smith: Pure at Heart (Eds. Anthony Barnett, Eva Logager), Allardyce 1991

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