I had never heard of Willie Farmer and his Orchestra when I happened upon this Bluebird 78 in the Food for Thought shop in Sebastopol, California, last year, but the two songs sold the disc for me. Another version of OLD MAN MOSE by an unknown band? (Although they cannot have been that unknown if they were recording for Bluebird.) And FAIR AND SQUARE — connected to Fats Waller by way of Andy Razaf — was a song I knew well because banjoist / singer Lueder Ohlwein of the fabled Sunset Music Company — had performed it often.
Online research turned up nothing on Farmer or his band, and George T. Simon’s THE BIG BANDS sniffed contemptuously at Farmer, identifying him as a drummer leading a Mickey Mouse / society band.
Still, the records are more than competent, even though no one would confuse the Farmer band with Basie at the Famous Door.
Here’s FAIR AND SQUARE, with a pleasing muted trumpet paraphrase of the melody:
and OLD MAN MOSE, with Scat Powell — who turned up on some jazz records in the decade — perhaps borrowing some odd vocal effects from the (in)famous Duchin recording:
Tom Lord’s discography lists this personnel for some 1937 sides: Willie Newman, Don “Skippy” Lipsey or Hymie Farberman (tp) Billy Pritchard (tb) Charles Reauseau, Nat Brown (as) Wes Fogel (ts) Gabby Buttafoo (p) Frank Darnada (g) Chuck Jordan (b) Leo Farberman (d) Willie Farmer (dir)
The Farmer band must have recorded more than Lord lists, but they did cross over several times more into the lands of Ellington and Waller, with SCATTIN’ AT THE KIT KAT, ALLIGATOR CRAWL, and MIDNITE AT THE MADHOUSE, which might be related to Chick Webb’s similar-sounding record. Hymie Farberman had been part of the early Twenties New York “hot”scene; Billy Pritchard turned up on a Bud Freeman V-Disc, and I suspect other members of the band had swing credentials that they kept up to date.
I offer these as pleasant curiosities, and relics of a time when music and “styles” weren’t so rigidly divided into categories that didn’t touch.
May your happiness increase!