I’d never heard of John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976), perhaps because I’d rarely watched Westerns, in theatres or on television. (He had a long career playing the hero’s friend.)
But when Jeff Hamilton nudged me towards this short film on YouTube, from 1928, I was immediately captivated by Fuzzy (so nicknamed because of his soft voice). He is s delightfully absurdist comedian, someone who swings from first to last, whose scat singing is hilariously unfettered (I think of both Harry Barris and Leo Watson) . . . and whose habit of singing into the piano is making me laugh as I write these words.
I can’t suggest even a hint of FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO by writing about it. You’d better try it for yourselves:
If you are wondering, “Ordinarily I comprehend Michael’s taste, or some of it. Why is FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO appearing on JAZZ LIVES? Are we going to be told that the Dorsey Brothers are hidden in the backing orchestra?”
Maybe they are, but that’s not the point.
This short subject is evidence to me of the cross-fertilization of hot music with more sedate forms of art by 1928. Whether Fuzzy was influenced by scat choruses on hot recordings — the Rhythm Boys or Louis Armstrong — I can’t say. (But in your mind, put Fuzzy near to Eddie Condon in the 1929 Red Nichols short, and you’ll see the resemblance — not influence, but something more tenuous.)
He seems to be operating on his own energetic impulses, while pretending to be a full band when the mood strikes, and his unaccompanied interludes swing as well as any hot soloist.
To me, the film also says that the people who divide music into “art” (serious) and “showmanship” (low and banal) might be in error. Fuzzy Knight didn’t make Fats Waller possible, but some of the same riotous feeling is there, however transmuted.
Ultimately, the film delights me. May it please you, too.
I find it sad that John Forrest Knight is buried in an unmarked grave. But no one this lively and memorably himself as Fuzzy Knight, with or without his Little Piano, is ever dead.
May your happiness increase!