Recently there was a long, energetic discussion on Facebook, sparked by our friend, the superb young pianist Kris Tokarski (you can find it if you scroll down to March 31) on what attributes constitute a “jazz singer.” Bless him, Kris didn’t come to it with a narrow ideology; he wanted to open up a discussion, which he did.
I made mention of instrumentalists with “untrained” voices, and mentioned Hot Lips Page — then also Jimmy Rushing and Ivie Anderson. But I forgot one of the finest singers of all, Thomas “Fats” Waller.
Most often, we think of Fats, at high volume, shouting and carrying on — THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’, satirizing, parodying, mocking, clowning. But there was another side of him, heard all too infrequently: the dear romantic balladeer, treating a deserving song with great tenderness.
He does it here — with the 1937 I’M ALWAYS IN THE MOOD FOR YOU:
The lyrics aren’t memorable — in fact, they seem a winking collection of love-song-conceits — but the performance lingers because it is so close to the heart. Hear the long, leisurely piano chorus, Fats’ careful, endearing reading of the lyrics with only Herman Autrey whispering sweet nothings in back of him, and the return. I think it’s fascinating that this take was issued, for clearly Fats got distracted or the lyric sheet slid off the piano, for there is a distinct near-crisis around three minutes in. Whether Eli Oberstein said, “Look, we have six more sides to get done today,” or “Well, you made a mistake, Fats, but it’s so late in the record and the side is so beautiful, let’s leave it be,” I don’t know. (It was the fifth side of nine recorded that day, so I suspect Fats was pressed to move on, even though there was this momentary lapse of attention. I find the “mistake” completely endearing.)
I also wonder if Fats’ very tender delivery of the song was because it was written by Benny Davis (lyrics), a true veteran of the Brill Building, and Fats’ dear friend and eating buddy J. Fred Coots . . . whatever the motive, it is a very sweet performance and one that has stayed in my mind for years.
I hope you have someone you adore who can hear this recording — preferably seated right nearby — and know that the lyrics and melody are Cupid’s arrow, aimed tenderly but accurately.
May your happiness increase!