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Legends: Solo Guitar Performances

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Album Review

Despite the impression one could reasonably get from the cover of this reissue, these two guitar legends do not perform together, unfortunately. The next best thing are these solo sessions recorded almost 20 years apart. The first 12 items on the play list belong to Smith and capture his tasteful, clean sound coupled with complex chordal voices, which helped Smith in his adventures with playing classical compositions, including for the fabled Arturo Toscanini. Cuts that remind the listener of Smith's occasional classical foray include "Romance de los Pinos," "The Old Castle," and "Maid With the Flaxen Hair." But Smith was no slouch with constructing unique renditions of popular music. In 1952, teaming with Stan Getz, he made one of the best-selling jazz recordings of all times, "Moonlight in Vermont," which still sold well 50 years later. Van Eps was the master of the seven-string guitar, which allowed him to play his own basslines, well demonstrated on such cuts as "Tea for Two." The 11 pieces assigned to Van Eps reveal a predilection for highly rhythmic versions of well-known pop classics. Perhaps not as multi-faceted as Smith, he nonetheless had a fully developed style that approached the depth and complexity of Smith's. This can be heard on such cuts as "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" and "A Foggy Day." Besides which, he could and did swing. Although sideman on many a session, Van Eps left behind a relatively meager discography as a leader. These solo offerings are among his best. Although the styles of these two guitarists may go down different paths, their excellent technical skills, fully elevated imagination, and sensitivity to what they play clearly establish them among the elite of guitar players, true legends indeed. Recommended.

Biography

Born: 25 June 1922 in Birmingham, AL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s

Guitarist Johnny Smith will always be best remembered for his 1952 hit recording of "Moonlight in Vermont," a mellow ballad that also features Stan Getz. Smith, whose chordal-oriented style was self-taught, originally played trumpet, violin, and viola before switching to guitar. A studio musician from 1947 on, Smith's impressive technique and quiet sound made him in great demand even before "Moonlight" and, although he never had another hit, he was a popular attraction throughout the 1950s. After...
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Legends: Solo Guitar Performances, Johnny Smith
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