Willie “The Lion” Smith (and Bill Coleman)
While looking into some boxes in the Otto Flückiger collection that I had not opened before, i stumbled over a very nice program for a concert by Willie “The Lion” Smith, in Zürich, Switzerland, 1949. Let’s start with page 1:
The concert took place on December 15, 1949 at the smaller of the two halls of Zurichs Tonhalle building. Now on page two we get to know the other musicians as well as their previous occupations:
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Page three shows the repertoire from which the Lion is bound to pick the evening’s program (no guarantee though that he actually did!):
The “J. Simmen” on the page above is of course Zürichs own master of jazz research Johnny Simmen. Otto introduced me to Simmen (this must have been around 1995) and we exchanged a handful of letters after that. Although we both were native speakers of german, Simmen insisted that we both write in english, since “one can not talk about jazz in other languages”. I was told by several people that Johnny Simmen always held it that way.
The last page of the program is taken up by two advertisements. The first tells us what’s happening at the Chicito (famous among swiss jazz fans of a certain age) around this time: The Bill Coleman sextet with (we are told she is black) vocalist Arstella Whittier:
(click to enlarge)
Interestingly, Ernest “Bass” Hill appears here as well. Maybe he took a day off in Bern to play with the Lion in Zurich (a one hour train ride today)? If you’d like to see the Bill Coleman’s band at the Chikito, a nice photograph can be see here. Do not let the inscription fool you, the photo is inscribed to the president of the Hot Club Basel, but was definitely taken at the Chikito in Bern.
From a short note in Jet (Jan. 15 1953), we know how Whittier came to join the band – and what became of her:
Arstella Whittier of Rochester, N.Y., who went to France four years ago seeking a job in a nightclub as a singer, has wound up in the french movies. She has won her acclaim for her role in Il Est Minuit, Dr Schweitzer (It is Midnight Dr, Schweitzer), now playing on the Champs-Elysees.
You can click here for the full article, or – in case this will not work – do a google book search on “Arstella Whittier” to read it.