“FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

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!

11 responses to ““FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

  1. Rebecca Kilgore

    I wonder if Fuzzy Knight every worked with Hazy Osterwald? -Becky

  2. That act would sound like a weird weather forecast, “FUZZY AND HAZY: Music for your woozy pleasure.”

  3. Don "Zoot" Conner

    Fuzzy sounds Eddie Condon on helium.Delightful!

  4. Anyone else hear hints of Minnie the Moocher?

  5. Yes, but at first I was laughing too hard. Although the Minnie part of the short — (not the mini-part) goes on a little too long for my ethereal taste. . .

  6. I remember “Fuzzy” Knight from old Westerns but never saw him in this Vaudeville type act. It is the kind of multi-talent now vanished. He should not be in an unmarked grave.

  7. George W. Ramsey Jr.

    I am glad to see that the world is finally beginning to discover Fuzzy Knight and realize what a real talent he was. It is somewhat of a mistake to think of him as having been only a comic sidekick to western stars such as Johnny Mack Brown and Tex Ritter. Although he did fulfill that role in the early part of his movie career, he was a very diverse and talented individual who played in a number of different roles–such as the piano player in the Trocadero Hotel in Show Boat, a god-fearing seaman in Down To The Seain Ships with Lionel Barrimore, Lefty Jones as a salmon fisherman in Spawn of the North, and many, many more. He played a major role in the Trail of the Lonesome Pine, which was nominated for an academy award. His tearful scene at the funeral of Buddy (Spanky McFarland) was rated one of the most touching scenes in the history of the cinema, and the song he sang “Melody From The Sky” was nominated for song of the year. He played Cricket, a Canadian seaman in the war movie Corvette K225, an war drama and a good one.
    Fuzzy did not get his nickname from his voice. He was one of three brothers in Fairmont who went by the name of Fuzzy Knight. When he was still very small, the family took in a stray dog and named it Fuzzy. The small dog had a very catching quality and the neighbors took to calling everyone in the family Fuzzy In local circles he was known as little Fuzzy My name is George Ramsey and I am considered the most knowledgeable person about Fuzzy Knight in our community. I have collected 118 of the movies he appeared in. Hopefully, in about another two weeks we will stage our second Fuzzy Knigh film festival.

  8. I am delighted to have this wonderful outpouring of accurate information. Do you know anything more about Fuzzy’s vaudeville act — what brought him to the attention of Movietone? Cheers and thanks, Michael

  9. Mick and Sally Fee

    Priceless!

  10. Loved it!! Thanks for the laugh, and what I considered some “good” piano.

  11. AMAZING!!!! That JUST MADE MY DAY!!!
    oxo
    fettz

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