Bessie Smith, even on the evidence of her earliest recordings, well deserved the title "Empress of the Blues" for in the 1920s there was no one in her league for emotional intensity, honest blues feeling, and power. The second of five volumes (the first four are two-CD sets) finds her accompaniment improving rapidly with such sympathetic sidemen as trombonist Charlie Green, cornetist Joe Smith, and clarinetist Buster Bailey often helping her out. However, they are overshadowed by Louis Armstrong, whose two sessions with Smith (nine songs in all) fall into the time period of this second set; particularly classic are their versions of "St. Louis Blues," "Careless Love Blues," and "I Ain't Goin' to Play Second Fiddle." Other gems on this essential set include "Cake Walkin' Babies From Home," "The Yellow Dog Blues," and "At the Christmas Ball."
Violinists Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff Smith performed together on a few occasions, but this 1965 studio session, first issued by Barclay, was one of the more difficult dates to acquire until Universal Music reissued it on CD in 2002, as a part of their extensive Jazz in Paris series. With a solid rhythm section (pianist René Urtreger, bassist Michel Gaudry, and drummer Michel Delaporte) that pretty much sticks to a supporting role, it is clear that Smith's gritty tone rubs off on Grappelli as the session progresses.
In the 1970s, Bessie Smith's recordings were reissued on five double LPs. Her CD reissue series also has five volumes (the first four are double-CD sets) with the main difference being that the final volume includes all of her rare alternate takes (which were bypassed on LP). The first set (which, as with all of the CD volumes, is housed in an oversize box that includes an informative booklet) contains her first 38 recordings. During this early era, Bessie Smith had no competitors on record and she was one of the few vocalists who could overcome the primitive recording techniques; her power really comes through.
The American lutenist, Hopkinson Smith, began as a teenager he began to study the classical guitar and in his early 20's, he became acquainted with the lute which he started to learn by himself. He majored in musicology at Harvard and graduated with honors in 1972. In 1973, Hopkinson Smith came to Europe to devote himself to the lute in earnest. He worked in Catalonia with Emilio Pujol, a profound pedagogue in the 19th century tradition who instilled in him a sense for higher artistic values, and in Switzerland with Eugen Dombois whose sense of happy organic unity between performer, instrument and historic period has had a lasting effect on him. From the mid 1970's, he was involved in various ensemble projects including the founding of the ensemble Hespèrion XX and a ten-year collaboration with Jordi Savall. This collaboration led to important experiences in chamber music which were a creative complement to his work as a soloist.