Tag Archives: Fats Waller

SQUEEZINGS

squeeze-3

I try to avoid soda, the beverage of my childhood, but I once bought a bottle of SQUEEZE because its affectionate logo charmed me.  The bottle vanished in one of several moves, but the melody lingers on.

Fats Waller’s first published song — although it was liberally based on a bawdy tune called THE BOY IN THE BOAT, whose central image was not nautical.  But here are a few versions . . . . the first one from Jazz at Chautauqua in 2011 with Marty Grosz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Frank Tate:

with a pause for liquid enlightenment here:

squeeze-2

and a solo version by Ray Skjelbred, recorded at Cline Cellars in California, June 2013:

with one more icon:

squeeze

and from the 2014 Atlanta  Jazz Party, with Dan Block, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Ed Polcer, John Cocuzzi, Paul Keller, Ed Metz:

Reading this post and listening to the music, I don’t know if you’ll suddenly crave an orange soda, look around for the right person to squeeze and be squeezed by . . . in such things, you’re on your own.  But perhaps at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — starting September 15 — someone will give this wonderful song another squeeze.  You never know.

May your happiness increase!

THE CONDON-GABLER MUSICAL EFFECT, 1947

Musicians’ relations to their material — whether they choose it or someone else does — are complex.

For some, “the material is immaterial,” which means “I will have a good time playing or singing whatever song is placed in front of me, and I will make it my own.”  In this category, I think of Louis, Lips Page, Fats Waller, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, and many others.  Other musicians like the comfort of the familiar: I think of Jack Teagarden, whose many versions of BASIN STREET BLUES are often full of small delightful surprises.  Yet the familiar can be a trap, encouraging some musicians to “phone it in” or “go through the motions.”

The Blessed Eddie Condon exists by himself in those categories.  Because so much of his musical life was  spent outside of the recording studio, on bandstands and in concert halls, there might appear to be a sameness in his discography, with multiple versions of IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE — but that “song” was simply a beautiful structure within which his brilliant strolling players could express themselves to the utmost.  Eddie cared very deeply for and about good songs, material that hadn’t been done to death.  That is why (without looking at the discography) you will find few versions of INDIANA, SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, and none of the SAINTS.  And when he was working with the Blessed Milton Gabler — either for Commodore or Decca or World Transcriptions — the two men shared a love of melodic material.  I don’t know who led the way, but I suspect that Eddie, who remembered songs, might have suggested to Milt a particular favorite of his childhood or the early Twenties: thus, DANCING FOOL; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; IDA; OH, KATHARINA, and this lovely oddity:

TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND

How did this song come to be?  It’s not explicitly a war song — the premise is simply that a pretty Dutch girl is waiting for the singer, and implicitly in the premise is that the singer will be kissed seriously when he shows up.  Were the fellows in the Brill Building making jokes about “two lips” when someone said, “Hey, let’s write a Dutch song!”  Was the “beside me / Zuider Zee” rhyme irresistible?  But it has a forward-looking melody for 1915, thanks to Whiting (I can hear the Wolverines playing this, in my mind) and the lyrics are of their time but not ponderously so.

Here is a contemporary version — not the most famous one by Henry Burr, but a good recording, one I would happily play for a listener insistent that music began with electrical recording or even later:

When Eddie and Milt decided to record this song for Decca, thirty-two years later, it was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.  It wasn’t LADY BE  GOOD or RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, and one hears an arrangement that (I think) was done by Bobby Hackett, and done prior to the date.  Who could go wrong with Jack Teagarden singing?

The personnel for this August 5, 1947 session is Bobby Hackett, cornet, probably arrangements; Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Ernie Caceres, alto and baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; George Wettling, drums:

Although that is a very short recording, it is full of pleasures: Jack’s trombone lazily ornamenting the melody over the four-horn statement of the theme; Bushkin, immediately identifiable, modulating for Jack’s vocal, with a Wettling accent to encourage everyone; Jack’s gorgeous voice — slightly nasal, Bing meets Louis in Texas, perhaps, streamlined but deeply earnest (with a different horn background — scored obbligati for four horns with Bushkin brightly commenting — beneath him); a Hucko half-chorus, sounding sweetly as if Bud were in the studio; Jack taking the last sixteen bars, vocally, with a scored phrase to finish it all out.  The only thing “wrong” with that record is that it could have had one more chorus and still been a perfectly respectable 10″ 78.

What impresses me at this distance of nearly fifty years is how musical it all is. It doesn’t need to parade its “improvisatory” credentials: “We’re hot jazzmen and singers, you know.”  The Condon-Gabler world didn’t always want to read from scores, but the musicians were perfectly capable of doing so, and the scored passages are expertly played.  I also imagine someone tuning in the radio — AM, of course, in 1947 — hearing this new Decca waxing, a new platter, and thinking, “That’s a great record!”  Which it was and is.

Why am I suddenly delving in to such obscurities?  Well, no record that has Eddie Condon on it is unworthy; the same goes for the rest of the personnel, especially Mister Teagarden . . . and I have been listening to these overlooked Decca sessions — in glowing sound, with many unissued alternates — from the new Mosaic Eddie Condon / Bud Freeman set, which I reviewed here. Ecstatically.

CONDON MOSAIC

I know this Mosaic set might get overshadowed by the latest glorious gift, the Lester Young effusion, and the Condon / Freeman one is already OLD, having come out in mid-2015, but when it’s sold out, don’t ring my buzzer and ask me to burn you copies of discs seven and eight.  You’ve been warned.

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS’ VICTORIAN ERA

No, not the steely Queen or Julia Cameron’s photographs.  This man.

LOUIS and ALPHA and dog

Some people celebrated yesterday (August 4) as Louis Armstrong’s “real” birthday.  I disagree, but choose to stay away from such disputes.  To me, every day we can think about or hear or see Louis is a collective cosmic birthday.

People who are drawn to Louis — magnetically, but his spiritual warmth — often gravitate to particular periods: the Hot Fives and Sevens, the later period — whether you define that as JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES, WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, or WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.  Thanks to Gosta Hagglof, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, and Mosaic Records, we’ve had the opportunity to rediscover the Decca classics of the Thirties and the All-Star gems.

But there’s a particularly rewarding period of Louis’ recordings that has been almost overlooked — the Victors of 1932-33.  Those who live to find fault have found plenty with the backing band — although they are at worst uneven, with beautiful solo episodes from Keg Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Budd Johnson, and the earliest recorded evidence of Louis and Sidney Catlett working together in deep harmony.  If one drops one’s prejudices, the material is also excellent — songs by Fats Waller, Tony Jackson, and the immortal Harry Woods.

And Louis is in spectacular form, playing the melody with all his heart, singing earnestly (and often with delightful floating levity), and improvising so very memorably.  Listen to what he does on the middle-eight / bridges / channels, as if he had decided earthly boundaries didn’t matter, and he could just lie back in the upper atmosphere no matter how fast the band was playing.  Some contemporary brass players — I think of Rex Stewart — took it as a stylistic point of honor to play more notes per bar as the tempo increased; Louis lazed over the pounding rhythms, as if he were a giant cat awaking from a splendid nap.

Spousal commitment of the highest order:

Friends don’t pass you by:

Revenge, served hot yet sweet:

May your happiness increase!

AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND COMMERCE: TAFT JORDAN AND THE MOB (February 21-22, 1935)

TAFT

A nice bio of trumpeter / vocalist Taft Jordan is available here, which is also the source for the photograph.

TAFT Night Wind Banner

In February 1935, “Taft Jordan And The Mob” — Taft, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Elmer “Tone” Williams [not “Skippy” Williams as listed in Tom Lord — thanks to Mark Cantor], tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Bobby Johnson, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Eddie Dougherty, drums — recorded four memorable sides that have never gotten the attention they deserve.  (Incidentally, the beautiful record labels are illustrations only: the music can be found in the videos below.)  

TAFT MOB label

The idea was John Hammond’s, and one that we are grateful for.  The usual story is that Hammond worked hard to get the music he loved on record, to make opportunities for racially mixed bands.  He succeeded beautifully: most readers know this part of the story as preface to the 1933-42 Billie Holiday sides.

But other parts of the story deserve attention.  There is, for one thing, the success of the coin-operated phonograph (later, the “jukebox”) that could offer people recorded music in restaurants, bars, and elsewhere for what seems to us like a bargain: a nickel would get you three minutes of new music.  But a 1935 nickel was much more than the ninety-nine cents per song that iTunes charges.  (A contemporary advertisement shows Easter dresses for $1.95, and a skilled worker for the W.P.A. might earn $79 a month.)

And, at the time, commercially produced records were — as it says on the label — “not licensed for radio broadcast.”  I think that coin-operated phonographs served the audience’s desire for novelty (“Let’s hear that new record of ______ by Erin Morris and her Ponies!”) — songs from new movies, new songs popularized by much loved bands and singers . . . and for five cents, one could have a side played for a gathering of listeners and/or dancers.  The record labels pictured above are now called “dime-store,” because one could  buy these records inexpensively at, say, Woolworth’s.

Radio and recordings created a need for new material, so many songs, not all memorable, were published, with a clear financial relationship between composers / lyricists, publishing companies, artists, recording supervisors, and record companies.  (A small example: IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN was written by Bernard Hanighen, Billie Holiday’s friend, also a recording director at Brunswick Records.  He would have been happy — aesthetically and financially — to have his song recorded.)

Taft’s four sides run parallel to other small groups led by Fats Waller, Henry Red Allen, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Stuff Smith, Adrian Rollini, Tempo King, Cleo Brown, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Frank Froeba, Bernard Addison, Louis “King”Garcia, Stew Pletcher, and others.  I’ve heard writers say these sessions were “cranked out for the jukebox trade,” but these records are lovely, imperishable.  That there were only four sides says more about an audience’s awareness of Taft as a star than about their quality.  Some listeners might have known him from the Savoy Ballroom and radio, but not many.  When the records were later reissued in the UK (the red-and-gold Vocalion issues) Teddy Wilson had become famous enough so that his name would sell discs.

The artists made little or nothing for these sessions: they were paid “scale,” although they were pleased to make the extra money.   The math is fascinating, a quiet recital of economic disparity, even at the remove of eight decades.  Let us say a band of eight musicians made four sides for $50 a musician.  The records were pressed, distributed, and ended up in the phonographs.  One could hear a side once — no limit on the number of hearers, theoretically — for a nickel. The machine could take in twenty nickels in an hour.  In 1935, the profit went to the record companies and the owners of the phonographs. Later (too late, perhaps) musicians and composers received royalties, but that is another story.

Yes, mechanical reproduction of art guarantees “exposure,” but one cannot eat exposure.  I am aware of this from both sides as an interloper with a video camera who can only recompense musicians in insubstantial ways.

I offer these notions, some of them quite sad or infuriating, as preface to wonderful music, and also to point out that an unstable, often exploitative relationship between the artists, “the marketplace,” technology, and lasting art is not a twenty-first century issue.

TAFT Vocalion Devil

What good songs these “disposable” pop tunes are — thanks to Rothberg, Coots, Alex Hill (yes!), and Hanighen.  And the players, professionals all, were used to sight-reading and creating instant arrangements — with split choruses, riffs, backgrounds.  To take one example, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, still recognizable, is a series of thirty-two and sixteen bar solos with rhythm (and what a rhythm section!) with a jammed ensemble ending.  How fine it sounds now.  One could spend an afternoon listening to the glowing epigrams Wilson dispenses, the variety of timbres the horns offer, solo and in ensemble.

In my collecting history, these four sides were part of a Columbia Chick Webb lp compilation — glorious gap-fillers, but also logical because of Taft’s role in the band.  Mince and Silloway were with Tommy Dorsey; Skippy Williams, Bobby Johnson, and John Kirby with Webb also; Eddie Dougherty a busy free-lancer. Wilson had not yet joined the Goodman orchestra as a member of the Trio and Quartet, but had recorded with BG in ad-hoc studio groups.

What we have here — each side is less than three minutes long — is both superior dance music and small-band swing of the highest order, pleasing to all audiences.

In my time-travel fantasy, I would like to be a silent onlooker at one of these sessions, but I doubt the musicians romanticized such work.  It was another way to pay the rent, perhaps (for the lucky sideman) to get some recognition for future leader’s gigs . . . or perhaps, after creating four quiet masterpieces, the guys went out for a drink or some ribs, a nap before the night’s work.  If I’d asked Taft about these sides in 1972 /3 and later — I didn’t see him at close range — I wonder what would he have said.

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

NIGHT WIND:

DEVIL IN THE MOON:

IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN:

All four of these songs were also recorded “with vocal chorus” by Taft, a charming Louis-influenced singer (consider his work with the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Webb) but none of the vocals was issued.  Mysterious.  I know there is an alternate take of NIGHT WIND issued on a Jerry Valburn collectors’ compilation, but it’s instrumental.

TAFT Vocalion Green

Does anyone know more about Eddie Dougherty than is published in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ?  I have learned that he recorded between 1933 and 1952 or a little later, that he lived in Brooklyn, and, according to Johnny Williams via Mike Burgevin, that he pronounced his last name as if spelled Dockerty.  But no more.

The music remains.  And I, for one, am truly grateful for that.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

As a postscript, here are four contemporaneous versions of DEVIL IN THE MOON — in honor of the Blessed Alex Hill.  I think they are all beautiful, so this is not to make insidious comparisons.

Leo Reisman:

Mills Blue Rhythm Band (with an incendiary Buster Bailey interlude that the expert dancers must have loved):

Benny Goodman:

Art Tatum:

May your happiness increase!

THEY MADE SOME MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JAMES CHIRILLO, KELLY FRIESEN at THE EAR INN (June 19, 2016)

EAR INN sign

Nothing fancy.  No theorizing, no dramatizing.  Just four jazz masters having a good time on Sunday, June 19, 2016, at The Ear Inn: Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Kelly Friesen, string bass. Without a moment’s thought of imitation, this group got closer to the spirit of the exalted Kansas City Six than any I’ve heard recently.  That’s a serious thing!

Here are a few highlights:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (at an easy lope, reminding me of Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton):

I NEVER KNEW (where the two-person front line evokes the 1938 Basie band while the gentlemen in the back row do a fine job of becoming that band’s rhythm section — I find this performance completely thrilling, quiet as it is):

OUT OF NOWHERE (thinking of Bing and all the great rhythm ballad performances, or simply on the quest to make beauty):

BLUE ROOM (at a sweetly wistful tempo one never hears these days):

DIGA DIGA DOO (for those who need to visit the jungle before they can head home to their apartment):

A few comments.  First, these time-honored standards offer such luxurious room for improvisation for those who care to enjoy the freedom to roam: the old songs are far from dead when played [or sung] by vividly alive musicians. Second, the art of counterpoint or ensemble playing isn’t something that died when the last New Orleans forbear went to the cemetery: one of the great pleasures of this set is the easy playful witty conversations between instruments. And, finally, I note with great pleasure that this quartet played quiet music for listeners.  And the listeners did what they were supposed to do.  How nice is that?

As always, I entreat my readers to find live music and savor it when possible. Marvels are all around us.  We dare not take them for granted.  Thank you, Swing wizards!

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE LASTS: YAALA BALLIN and ARI ROLAND (2015)

Songwriters have always done well with the sudden romantic infatuation, the blinding green flash “across a crowded room.”  “And all at once I owned the earth and sky.”  But love that lasts when such mind-altering experiences have grown familiar is much more rarely a subject.  Oh, there’s WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE, but MAGGIE is no longer around to appreciate the encomium; there’s THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL, but that couple is also apparently fairly sedentary.

THEN I'LL BE TIRED OF YOU

The song that I think of with great affection is the 1934 THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU, music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Yip Harburg.  I heard it first in a rather irreverent version by Fats Waller (when the song was new) and later by Vic Dickenson and Joe Thomas — instrumental but deeply fervent.  The simple melody is memorable (Joe delighted in those repeated notes) yet for me what makes it complete is Harburg’s witty conceit: rather than attempt to revitalize “I will always love you,” he turns it on its head in the conditional: “I’ll weary of you when these improbable events happen, but not a second before.” High fidelity, and long-playing, too.

YAALA

Here’s a deliciously intimate version by the fine young singer Yaala Ballin and string bassist Ari Roland, recorded in December 2015 at The Drawing Room (video by the very gifted Neal Miner):

Even better than this video is the news that Yaala and Ari will be singing and playing on Sunday, June 19, at the pastoral hour of 3:30, at The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn — right near a subway!)  Here are the details of that event.  And later on that same June 19, Lena Bloch, Russ Lossing, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz (the FEATHERY quartet) will be creating and improvising . . . from 7 PM on.

May your happiness increase!

“WHEN LOUIS MET BIX”: ANDY SCHUMM, ENRICO TOMASSO, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, ALISTAIR ALLAN, SPATS LANGHAM, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, MALCOLM SKED, NICK BALL (LAKE RECORDS)

A wise philosopher — Gladys Bentley or Blanche Calloway — once said, “There are a thousand ways to do something wrong, but only four or five ways to do it right.”  One of the most eagerly-awaited CDs of recent memory, WHEN LOUIS MET BIX,  on Lake Records, is a shining example of beautiful imaginations at work.

WHEN LOUIS MET BIX two

The assertive cover photograph is slightly misleading, suggesting that we might be getting ready for one of those Battle of the Valves scenes so beloved of film directors.  I offer as evidence one of the most musical (having seen this scene from THE FIVE PENNIES when I was perhaps eleven, it made a deep impression):

Beautiful as it is, that scene is all about mastery and power: the unknown challenger coming out of the shadows (the club dramatically silenced) to claim territory for himself, and being accepted by the gracious King, who makes space for him on the regal bandstand.  It might be satisfying but we know it’s not the way things happen.

And this myth isn’t the story of WHEN LOUIS MET BIX, either historically or in this evocative CD.  Consider this fraternal conversation, instead:

Immediately, the ear understands that this CD succeeds at being more than a recreation of a 1927 or 1928 after-hours jam session or cutting contest.  The music on this disc, even when it is searing hot, is carried along by a fundamental gentleness of spirit, an aura of brotherly love and deep admiration.  No skirmishes, no high notes except as they would logically occur.

As I mentioned at the start, there would have been many ways to make this noble idea turn into a leaden result.  One would have been to hew strictly to factoids: to use only songs that we knew Bix and Louis played or recorded, and perhaps narrow the repertoire to a choking narrowness by sticking to compositions both of them had done.  (By this time, certain well-played songs are reassuring to the audience but must feel like too-tight clothing to the musicians, restricting free movement.)  Another would have been to envision the music as competitive: the Bix of BARNACLE BILL pitted against the Louis of POTATO HEAD BLUES.  Nay, nay, to quote the Sage of Corona.

Instead, the repertoire is spacious — Louis and Bix loved melodies — and it offers Broadway show music by Rodgers and Blake next to pop classics of the time, alongside “jazz standards” and obscurities by Morton, Chris Smith, Fats Waller — and one evocative original by Andy Schumm.  And rather than simply say to the noble players in the studio, “All right.  MILENBERG JOYS, and find your own way home,” or “Meet you at the end,” the performances on this disc are delicately yet effectively shaped so that each seems a complete musical expression.  There are small arrangements on each track, and rather than that being an impiety (affront to the Goddess of Hot, who supposedly loathes anything worked out — although we know better) these little sketches make the performances even more satisfying.  Split choruses, four-bar trades, modulations, duet interludes, balanced conversations where X plays the melody and Y improvises around it, stop-time choruses . . . the wonders that musicians had and have accessible to them instead of the possible monotony of ensemble-solo-ensemble.

On that score, one of the reasons it has taken me longer than usual to review this worthy disc is that I kept falling in love with one track so that I wanted to play it all the way to work and all the way home.  By definition, CDs are economy-sized packages of music, and I think I would have been happier (although weighed down) if this Lake Records CD could have been sold as eight 12″ 78 discs in a heavy cardboard binder, to be listened to deeply one at a time, on and on.  But longing for the past, although understandable, has its limits.  And the imagined 78s would have warped in my car.

For the record, and what a record! –the songs are OL’ MAN RIVER / MILENBERG JOYS / CHLOE / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / WHO’S IT / PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES / WHISPERING / MANHATTAN / SKID-DAT-DE-DAT / BESSIE COULDN’T HELP IT (the one Louis-Bix recording overlap) / COME ON AND STOMP, STOMP, STOMP / MY MELANCHOLY BABY / WHEN SHE CAME TO ME/ I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY / THE BALTIMORE.

And the players.  Rico (Louis) and Andy (Bix) are joined by absolutely stellar folk.  And since neither Bix nor Louis tried to take up all the space on a recording, democracy prevails; thus we hear beautiful work from Alistair Allan, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Spats Langham, banjo and guitar; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

More evidence:

Through this CD, we are able to travel to an alternate universe, where glorious improvised music evokes and summons up the Great Departed.  And unlike actually attending the after-hour jam session at the Sunset Cafe or the Savoy Ballroom and thinking, “Where is all this beauty going?” we can have this dramatic evocation to visit over and over again (without our clothes smelling of smoke, spilled whiskey, or beer).

Incidentally, may I urge you to do the most venerable thing and purchase the actual physical disc (from Amazon US or UK or elsewhere).  Not only does the glorious sound Paul Adams got through his vintage microphones deserve to be reproduced in the highest fidelity (as opposed to mp3s played through earbuds on a noisy train in the common fashion) but you’ll miss out on wonderfully detailed but light-hearted liner notes by scholar-producer Julio Schwarz Andrade and many wonderful photographs that convey the joy that reigned at this session.

My hope is that Lake Records will continue this series of mystical voyages that make an imagined past into tangible present reality.  I’m sure that Julio, Paul, and the fellows have even more thrilling ideas for us in future.  And I hope that there is an on-the-spot Louis / Bix meeting at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party so that we can marvel again.

Thanks to all the participants for making a visit to the alternate universe possible and so joyous. . . . a world where lyricism, abandon, passion, and expertise shape the music.

May your happiness increase!