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Sat, 08.14.1909

Stuff Smith, one of the best at his craft

Stuff Smith, 1946

*On this date in 1909, Stuff Smith was born. He was an African American jazz violinist.

Born in Portsmouth, Ohio, Smith first gained notice as a musician with Alphonso Trent's orchestra in the '20s. After marrying and settling in Buffalo, he teamed with Jonah Jones, who became a friend for life. Their band became a hit at New York City's Onyx Club on 52nd Street and recorded such popular tunes as I'se A Muggin and If You'se A Viper. Smith went to Hollywood in 1938 to make the film Swing Street and was slow to return to his work in New York. As a result, the job with Jones ended and Smith's career slowed down although he worked regularly in New York and Chicago.

He played in a trio format in the '40s, then moved to California in the '50s and most often performed solo. Perhaps the most influential of early jazz violinists, Stuff Smith said that his chief influence was Louis Armstrong and that he used the bow "like a horn player uses breath control." He approached the violin somewhat in the Joe Venuti style, a forceful bowing technique and swing-era rhythmic direction. He became a popular performer in Europe in the '60s and died in Munich, Sept. 25, 1967.

Some of his best recordings are with Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson on Verve records and Stuff Smith And His Onyx Club Boys on Classics records.

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