Tag Archives: Andy Razaf

ROMANTICALLY YOURS, THOMAS “FATS” WALLER

The legend that’s continued after Fats Waller’s untimely death is that he was marvelously creative but also an outlandish clown, especially when given poor material to record, undermining it with mocking asides and jokes.  But I treasure those times when he respected the song and showed us what a tender singer he was.  The performances below aren’t comic or anarchic; there are no uptempo stride extravaganzas.  But gentle feeling shines through every note.

FAIR AND SQUARE is a song I came to love through performances by Lueder Ohlwein of the Sunset Music Company, a whole rhythm section and glorious singer on his own.  The composer credits are usually given to Andy Razaf and Leo Robin, although one HMV record label assigns the song to Harry Woods, I think in error:

I first heard this very sweet song because of Melissa Collard’s 2004 memorable recording.  But Fats did it first:

This performance sounds as if Fats is going to launch into hilarious mockery, but he doesn’t.  The songwriters Charlie Tobias and Sammy Fain knew how to transform cliches.  Wait for the lovely piano coda:

Here, also, Fats trembles on the edge of amusement, but chooses to focus on the song’s essential sadness:

Lovely music and lovely sentiments from Thomas Waller.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!

“MAGIC NOTES”

charleston-chasers-misbehavin

There’s always something to discover, or perhaps re-discover.  I know I had heard this recording some time before, but I had forgotten how good it sounds. So I’d like to share the delightful shocks of music perfectly executed — simply, with spirit, to quote Ruby Braff speaking of Hanna Richardson’s singing — as if it were the first time.

Thanks to Tohru Seya, the most generous of collectors, I was reminded of this wonderful recording through Facebook.  And thanks to Andy LeMaitre, I can present a vivid-sounding copy.  It’s “The Charleston Chasers,” an all-star studio group from June 28, 1929: Phil Napoleon, trumpet; Miff Mole, trombone; Jimmy Dorsey, alto saxophone / clarinet; Arthur Schutt, piano; Joe Tarto, string bass; Dave Tough, drums.  And the glorious Eva Taylor singing.

Little touches make this more than a formulaic run-through of a first-class pop tune.  For one thing, the way the recording is laid out — its balance between ensemble and solo, between ensemble and simultaneously soloing brass players, between vocal and instrumental, is delightful — and so easily unspectacular that one doesn’t notice all the details going by at first.  And at just over three minutes, the performance seems completely fulfilling.  It deserves several hearings.

I could muse in print about more related subjects: the continued popularity of this Waller-Razaf classic; the imagined politics of this “mixed band,” if politics there were; the wondrous longevity of Miss Taylor; tempos for dancers (this is a “slow fox trot”); whether this was a Schutt arrangement; the sound that recording engineers achieved in 1929 . . . but I’d rather listen one more time.

May your happiness increase!

SHE’S SWEET. SHE’S FROM SAVANNAH.

savannah

Fats Waller, Andy Razaf, and Shelton Brooks wrote this song in 1929 for the revue CONNIE’S HOT CHOCOLATES.  I’ve read that Fats sold the rights to this and nearly 20 other songs to Irving Mills for $500 — a fortune in those days, but nothing compared to the money Mills made from that bundle.  Alas.

But back to the theme. To some, it’s not the most memorable composition — melody, rhythm, or lyrics — but I love it ardently because of the music its inspired, and because I always imagine a line of nimble chorus girls dancing to it. Like many of Fats’ most memorable tunes, it relies greatly on repeated melodic phrases moved around over the harmonies — simple to annotate but not as simple to create.

Here are four recordings from 1929, in chronological order, and a later masterpiece.  Consider the delightful possibilities.

The first ever: Louis Armstrong And His Orchestra: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Homer Hobson, trumpet; Fred Robinson, trombone; Jimmy Strong, clarinet; Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington, alto saxophone; Carroll Dickerson, violin, conductor; Gene Anderson, piano; Mancy Carr, banjo; Pete Briggs, tuba; Zutty Singleton, drums.  New York, July 22, 1929.  (I think the intuitive relationship between Louis and Zutty — the latter on bock-a-de-bock cymbals and solidly thudding accents) foreshadows that of Louis and Big Sid. July 22, 1929:

Irving Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang.  Mannie Klein, Phil Napoleon, trumpet; Miff Mole, trombone; possibly Arnold Brilhart, clarinet, alto; Larry Binyon, tenor saxophone; possibly Arthur Schutt, piano; unknown banjo, guitar; Joe Tarto, tuba; Chauncey Morehouse, drums; Lilian Morton, vocal.  July 31, 1929:

I wonder what else can be known about Lilian Morton, aside from the two sides she made for Parlophone, THAT’S MY MAMMY and AFTER MY LAUGHTER CAME TEARS (accompaniment unknown) and that in 1926, she was praised in a tiny notice in The Scranton Republican from Scranton, Pennsylvania, as “Broadway’s well known singing comedienne … a peppery singer of the original type,” with “a splendid voice.”  She sounds very good on this recording.

Here’s the non-vocal version (made for the European market) with Miss Morton’s place taken by a duet for Arthur Schutt (perhaps?) and wonderful drumming by Chauncey Morehouse.  Praise to Larry Binyon, too:

And for the Lilian Morton completists in the viewing audience, the other Fats song — a good one! — from the same score, with Miss Morton’s vocal:

The originator, Fats Waller, at the piano, August 2, 1929:

And an utterly remarkable recording of SUE by Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra, September 20, 1929.  The Louis and Mills recordings seem to use the same stock arrangement, but this recording is notable for a slap-tongue clarinet solo after the last eight bars, completely satisfying vaudeville singing from the leader, wondrous piano by Hank Duncan, and delightful trumpet work from either Temple or Brown.  Fess Williams, clarinet, alto, vocal, leader; George Temple, trumpet; John Brown, trumpet, vocal; David “Jelly” James, trombone; Ralph Brown, Felix Gregory, alto saxophone; Perry Smith, clarinet, tenor, vocal; Henry “Hank” Duncan, piano; Ollie Blackwell or Andy Pendleton, banjo; Emanuel Casamore, tuba; Ralph Bedell, drums, vocal:

and one of the most endearing recordings I know — in its own way evoking Louis and Fats together in the persons of Ruby Braff, cornet; Dick Hyman, piano; July 2, 1994:

May your happiness increase!

CONCENTRATIN’ ON FATS (Part Five): REBECCA KILGORE, HAL SMITH, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, ANDY SCHUMM at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, September 11, 2015

This cheerful graphic is seriously at odds with the poignant song and performance that follows, but I love it.

FATS WALLER'S HAPPY FEELING

As you probably already know, Hal Smith (drums, leadership, ideas) and Rebecca Kilgore (song, inspiration) joined with Andy Schumm, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass, for a set at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, devoted to lesser-known Fats Waller songs.

The closing song of this set, DIXIE CINDERELLA, is one of my favorites — written for the 1929 revue, CONNIE’S  HOT CHOCOLATES — on a theme that needed and needs to be expressed.  We know the Waller-Andy Razaf BLACK AND BLUE, but DIXIE CINDERELLA, although the singer is apparently just a child, is aimed directly at the same target, racial discrimination.  No, it wasn’t the first song to express outrage and pain at this treatment (I think of PICKIN’ ON YOUR BABY and others) but it is very touching — and this performance captures its poignancy.

Becky’s verse and chorus couldn’t be more delicately lovely . . . and when she comes back, she expresses an intense bluesy wail — making deep sadness swing.

(I want to write, “Isn’t she wonderful?” but if you don’t get that from this performance and her sustained body of work, there’s no point in my saying so.)

And here are the four performances that preceded DIXIE CINDERELLA — each one perfectly poised, casually masterful.  Why isn’t this band on every festival roster?  Where’s the PBS special?  The DVD?  The pop-up book?  Jeepers.

May your happiness increase!

CONCENTRATIN’ ON FATS (Part Four): REBECCA KILGORE, HAL SMITH, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, ANDY SCHUMM at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, September 11, 2015

Heart-Vs-Brain

Neurological research tells us that the condition known as infatuation can have serious effects on cognition, that the romantic individual often suffers from the most pleasing kind of attention-deficit disorder.  Fats Waller and Andy Razaf knew this well, and created a delightful song from this pleasant malady, CONCENTRATIN’ ON YOU.

Heart brain i-hate-it-when-you-make-me-look-like-an-idiot

Drummer / scholar Hal Smith, some years back, created a CD called CONCENTRATIN’ ON FATS — on which his Rhythmakers featured, among others, the wondrous Rebecca Kilgore.  They held a kind of swing reunion at the Allegheny Jazz Party (now known as the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party) on September 11, 2015.  Hal and Rebecca joined forces for an all-too-brief homage to lesser-known Fats songs — with Andy Schumm, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass.

Here are the three songs that preceded this beauty.

Never has ADD sounded so delightful.

There’s one more gorgeous Fats song to come.  I hope there will be more like this at the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.

May your happiness increase!

CONCENTRATIN’ ON FATS (Part Two): REBECCA KILGORE, HAL SMITH, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, ANDY SCHUMM at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, September 11, 2015

Here’s more from a delightful set at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing Part One, for those who arrived late to this happy event.

FATS WALLER'S HAPPY FEELING

Something plaintive:

A question of identity — romance, not theft:

A wonderful musical experience (and there are more songs to come)!

May your happiness increase!