Tag Archives: Fats Waller

YOU’LL BE INTRODUCED TO GLORY!

Fats Waller and Alex Hill wrote one of the most irresistibly encouraging songs I know, a sweet spiritual paean to optimism, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL.  I thought it would be fitting to let you hear as many versions of it as I could find.

SONG IN YOUR SOUL cover

Ellington, with a friendly vocal by Chick Bullock (1931):

Fletcher Henderson, arrangement by Benny Carter (1930):

Red Nichols with Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman:

Mamie Smith:

Lou Gold and His Orchestra:

SONG IN YOUR SOUL inside

Now, for some of my favorite intersections — living hot musicians playing beautiful swing classics:

Marty Grosz and his Optimists:

Jeff Barnhart and friends at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

Michael Hashim with Claudio Roditi:

Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band with Viktoria Vizin:

Howard Alden and Warren Vache:

Rebecca Kilgore with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers, featuring Marc Caparone, Bobby Gordon, Chris Dawson:

Another version from Jeff Barnhart and a British band with Nick Ward:

And an earlier version from Marty Grosz and his Philosophers:

SONG IN YOUR SOUL Brunswick Bill Robinson

There is a wonderful 1931 recording of Bill Robinson, singing and tapping.  Here is Bojangles as a marionette, invented and manipulated in the most extraordinary way by Bob Baker.  Initially it might seem perverse, but I came to marvel at it.  If you see this as demeaning, Robinson’s wife liked this and encouraged Baker to keep it in his show:

I was excited to see that so many versions are accessible to us, and perhaps I got carried away.  But I love this song, its message that music can make everything right, and I love the ways that the music itself blossoms in so many contexts.

May your happiness increase!

TWO SOULFUL ECCENTRICS: JEFF BARNHART and SPATS LANGHAM, “WE WISH WE WERE TWINS” (LAKE RECORDS LACD 342)

In 2015, Jeff Barnhart and Thomas “Spats” Langham created a new duo CD.  If you know these musicians, there will be no need to do more than click here.  (The ideal way to get copies of the CD will be at a gig, but you already know this.)

JEFF SPATS two

First off, a word of explanation about my title.  Should anyone think I am satirizing either of these artists by calling them “eccentric,” know that I am using the word in its scientific sense to mean unpredictable, original, singular — they are on their own orbits, which is one of the great pleasures of this recording, because Planet Barnhart and Planet Langham create something larger than themselves while remaining true delightful individuals.  Hot synergy, if you like.

Even though this CD presents only two musicians, it gives extraordinary value. Jeff plus Spats equals a whole repertory company: a swing / stride / blues / ragtime pianist; a wonderful rhythm guitarist who also solos in his own way; an imitable banjo wizard; two singers who can emulate Fats Waller or Al Bowlly, who can croon or harmonize or scat, create hilarious jive, double-entendre or suitable for the kiddies; two comedians; two clowns . . . have I left any of the marvelous facets of these two fellows out?  No doubt when you listen to the CD you will hear and think of more.  The sonic and aesthetic density of this CD — every three-minute performance is so nobly complete and emotionally satisfying in itself, a miniature dramatic performance — makes me long for a 78 rpm issue, say a special LAKE Records eleven-record set in its own heavy cardboard album with (of course) cover by Jim Flora.  That way, we’d have to get up and go to the record player at the end of every performance and either savor it in silence or put the needle back to the beginning.

What variety!  Both Jeff and Spats are wise connoisseurs of songs that haven’t been overdone, but the disc is not overly focused on the obscure — there’s also Waller, Berlin, Coots, McHugh, Whiting — although if you’d asked me before the CD came out, “What songs would you love to have this duo doing?” I would have named a few that are here, but the results are a wonderful banquet of delights.  The disc seems intelligently apportioned between the romantic and the hot, with side-dishes of unclassifiable gratifying music, and there’s even a Barhart original that fits right in.  It’s all fulfilling.  I won’t delineate the particular pleasures and surprises — that’s rather like sending someone into a film that you’ve enjoyed to the utmost and saying, “Keep a close eye on what she does with her pearls in the Florida scene,” and the watcher is so focused on what’s-to-come, waiting for it, that the larger creation is somehow made lopsided.

Just to delineate the variety: EVERYWHERE YOU GO / TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE / ALL ALONE / SMOOTH SAILING / SLEEPY HEAD / BLUE EVENING / I COULDN’T GET TO IT / SHAKE IT DOWN / WHAT DO I CARE (What Somebody Said)? / THE BALTIMORE / KING CHANTICLEER / ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE / ISN’T LOVE THE STRANGEST THING? / IT’S YOU / LET’S PRETEND THAT THERE’S A MOON / EVERY EVENING / WITH MY LOVE / SAY IT WITH YOUR FEET – HAPPY FEET / WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? / I WISH I WERE TWINS.

Astute listeners will chart the associations — Henry “Red” Allen, Fats, Billie, Doris Day, Ikey Robinson, Bix and Tram, Ellington, Marty Grosz, Russ Columbo, Noone — and more.  But my guess is that the next time you hear, say, I WISH THAT I WERE TWINS, you will think of Jeff and Spats first.

I haven’t had the good fortune to capture Spats and Jeff as a duo, although I have seen and recorded them both — Spats at Whitley Bay for a number of years, Jeff likewise and also in duet with wife Anne (as IVORY&GOLD) . . . but here are two performances of songs you will hear on the CD.

Groucho Marx said that all theatre could be divided into two categories, sad or high-kicking, so it is on that principle that I present the music.

BLUE EVENING (recorded by me at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) by Spats, Robert Fowler, tenor saxophone; Martin Litton, piano; Malcolm Sked, brass bass:

WHEN DID  YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? by Jeff, Brian Nalepka, and Jim Lawlor — recorded in October 2015 by my friend CineDevine at Jeff and Joel’s House Party (a twice-yearly explosion of good music you should investigate):

Those two performances will give you strength to wait out the days and nights until the CD arrives, I hope.  Hail Barnhart!  Hail Langham!  Hail Paul Adams of LAKE Records!

May your happiness increase!

“INTERNATIONALLY-RENOWNED SYNCOPATORS,” THE VITALITY THREE: NICHOLAS D. BALL, DAVID HORNIBLOW, ANDREW OLIVER (2015)

Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow

David Horniblow and Andrew Oliver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VITALITY FIVE

Nick Ball 2014

Nicholas D. Ball at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party November 2014

VITALITY THREE logo

Their brief press release says it all:

PRESENTING THE FAMOUS “VITALITY THREE” JAZZ BAND of London

SPECIALIST PERFORMERS OF ORIGINAL HOT STOMPS.

Featuring internationally-renowned Syncopators:
Mr. DAVID HORNIBLOW : Clarinet
Mr. ANDREW OLIVER : Pianoforte
Mr. NICHOLAS D. BALL : Drums & Washboard

A spinoff project from London’s famous Vitality Five jazzband, the Vitality Three is an all-star trio dedicated to performing and recording authentic 1920s trio jazz. Specialising in the kind of blistering ‘hot stomps’ inspired by the records of Jelly Roll Morton, Omer Simeon, Johnny Dodds and others, the Three include sensational virtuosi from the USA and UK.

RAGS! BLUES! STRUTS! TROTS! 100% PEP GUARANTEED.

“Guaranteed?” you say.  I have proof, three performances created in December 2015 at the charmingly-named London room JAM IN A JAR:

SHREVEPORT STOMP:

WILD CAT BLUES:

SMILIN’ THE BLUES AWAY:

My Pep levels have risen dramatically.

About The Vitality Five: I apologize for not knowing the names of the two additional members — on bass saxophone and guitar / banjo — but you can hear samples of the quintet here.

I await the CD, the DVD, the world tour.  Lecture-demonstrations and foundation support.  Vitality 3 and 5 sleepwear.  Pinback buttons and stuffed toys.  Vitality gum and mints in special tins.  Vitality 3 and 5 comic books where these noble artists combat the  great enemies Inertia and Dullness.

May your happiness increase!

FATS, CONNIE, BUNNY, LIPS, BIRD, CHICK

As the people who were swing / jazz / popular music fans in the Thirties and Forties leave the planet, their possessions come up for sale on eBay.  This makes me mildly sad — let’s make money off Gramps’ stuff! — but it is far better than the beloved artifacts being tossed in the recycling bin.  Four treasures that are or were for sale.  I don’t know who Joe Walsh was.  But I do know that Fats Waller autographed this photograph in green fountain pen ink to him:

FATS TO JOE WALSH full

and a magnified view:

FATS TO JOE WALSH detail

Fats Waller’s best wishes are always free, thankfully:

DO ME A FAVOR:

WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU?:

and then there is Carol (Lotz) Lantz:

CONNIE BOSWELL to CAROL front

and the back:

CONNIE BOSWELL to CAROL rear

and the provenance:

Signed and inscribed to CAROL (Lotz) Lantz, daughter of Charles Lotz (1891-1965), a prominent band director from Canton, Ohio. Apparently Boswell performed sometime with Lotz’s band and signed this photo for his daughter. From the Lotz family collection.  SOURCE: From the archives of the World War History & Art Museum (WWHAM) in Alliance, Ohio. WWHAM designs and delivers WWI and WWII exhibits to other rmuseums. Our traveling exhibts include Brushes With War, a world class collection of 325 original paintings and drawings by soldiers of WWI, and Iron Fist, an HO scale model of the German 2nd Panzer Division in 1944 with 4,000 vehicles and 15,000 men.

A little sound from Connie, on a 1936 fifteen-minute radio program in honor of the charms of Florida — with Harry Richman and Fred Rich:

Then there’s Joe Williams, someone I reasonably sure is not the singer:

BUNNY to JOE WILLIAMS

Bunny was proud of his beautiful handwriting, and this one looks authentic. So is this music — A 1938 Disney song (with Dave Tough and Gail Reese):

And one page from a serious scrapbook (with signatures of Chu Berry and Ivie Anderson) belonging to L. Sgt. McKay:

HOT LIPS PAGE to McKay

This record may not be the finest example of Lips (or Lip’s) trumpet playing, but it has a sentimental meaning to me — if I may name-drop — that when I was at Ruby Braff’s apartment, this 78 was leaning against the wall.  So it’s doubly meaningful:

And the Yardbird:

BIRD

Finally, something quite rare: a Chick Webb photograph I’ve never seen before, signed by the Master, who was embarrassed (according to a Helen Oakley Dance story) about his poor handwriting:

CHICK WEBB autographed photo

And Chick in an unusual setting — with an Ellingtonian small group (and Ivie):

I am fond of being alive, and dead people don’t blog, but I wish I’d been around to ask Fats, Connie, Bunny, Lips, Bird, and Chick for their autographs.

May your happiness increase!

THE TRIUMPHS OF JAMES P. JOHNSON

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Baby Dodds, 1946, by Charles Peterson

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Danny Barker, 1946, by Charles Peterson

When the Student is more dramatically visible than the Teacher, even the most influential mentor and guide might become obscure.  James Price Johnson, pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, has become less prominent to most people, even those who consider themselves well-versed in jazz piano.  He was a mentor and teacher — directly and indirectly — of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum. “No James P., no them,” to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie. But even with memorable compositions and thirty years of recording, he has been recognized less than he deserves.

CAROLINA SHOUT eBay OKeh

 

Fats Waller eclipsed his teacher in the public eye because Waller was a dazzling multi-faceted entertainer and personality, visible in movies, audible on the radio.  Fats had a recording contract with the most prominent record company, Victor, and the support of that label — he created hit records for them — in regular sessions from 1934 to 1943.  Tatum, Basie, and Ellington — although they paid James P. homage in words and music — all appeared to come fully grown from their own private universes.  Basie and Ellington were perceived not only as pianists but as orchestra leaders who created schools of jazz composition and performance; Tatum, in his last years, had remarkable support from Norman Granz — thus he left us a series of memorable recordings.

Many of the players I’ve noted above were extroverts (leaving aside the reticent Basie) and showmanship come naturally to them.  Although the idea of James P., disappointed that his longer “serious” works did not receive recognition, retiring to his Queens home, has been proven wrong by Johnson scholar Scott Brown (whose revised study of James P. will be out in 2017) he did not get the same opportunities as did his colleagues.  James P. did make records, he had club residencies at Cafe Society and the Pied Piper, was heard at an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert and was a regular feature on Rudi Blesh’s THIS IS JAZZ . . . but I can look at a discography of his recordings and think, “Why isn’t there more?”  Physical illness accounts for some of the intermittent nature of his career: he had his first stroke in 1940 and was ill for the last years of his life.

There will never be enough.  But what we have is brilliant.  And the reason for this post is the appearance in my mailbox of the six-disc Mosaic set which collects most of James P.’s impressive recordings between 1921 and 1943.  (Mosaic has also issued James P.’s session with Eddie Condon on the recent Condon box, and older issues offered his irreplaceable work for Blue Note — solo and band — in 1943 / 44, and the 1938 HRS sides as well.)

JAMES P. Mosaic

Scott Brown, who wrote the wise yet terse notes for this set, starts off by pointing to the wide variety of recordings Johnson led or participated in this period.  And even without looking at the discography, I can call to mind sessions where Johnson leads a band (with, among others, Henry “Red” Allen,  J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett — or another all-star group with Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Lionel Hampton on drums, Artie Bernstein, Ed Hall, and Higginbotham); accompanies the finest blues singers, including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, is part of jivey Clarence Williams dates — including two takes of the patriotic 1941 rouser UNCLE SAMMY, HERE I AM — works beautifully with Bessie Smith, is part of a 1929 group with Jabbo Smith, Garvin Bushell on bassoon, Fats Waller on piano); is a sideman alongside Mezz Mezzrow, Frank Newton, Pete Brown, John Kirby, swings out on double-entendre material with Teddy Bunn and Spencer Williams. There’s a 1931 band date that shows the powerful influence of Cab Calloway . . . and more.  For the delightful roll call of musicians and sides (some never before heard) check the Mosaic site here.

(On that page, you can hear his delicate, haunting solo BLUEBERRY RHYME, his duet with Bessie Smith on her raucous HE’S GOT ME GOING, the imperishable IF DREAMS COME TRUE, his frolicsome RIFFS, and the wonderful band side WHO?)

I fell in love with James P.’s sound, his irresistible rhythms, his wonderful inventiveness when I first heard IF DREAMS COME TRUE on a Columbia lp circa 1967.  And then I tried to get all of his recordings that I could — which in the pre-internet, pre-eBay era, was not easy: a Bessie Smith accompaniment here, a Decca session with Eddie Dougherty, the Blue Notes, the Stinson / Asch sides, and so on.  This Mosaic set is a delightful compilation even for someone who, like me, knows some of this music by heart because of forty-plus years of listening to it.  The analogy I think of is that of an art student who discovers a beloved artist (Rembrandt or Kahlo, Kandinsky or Monet) but can only view a few images on museum postcards or as images on an iPhone — then, the world opens up when the student is able to travel to THE museum where the idol’s works are visible, tangible, life-sized, arranged in chronology or thematically . . . it makes one’s head spin.  And it’s not six compact discs of uptempo stride piano: the aural variety is delicious, James P.’s imagination always refreshing.

The riches here are immense. All six takes of Ida Cox’s ONE HOUR MAMA. From that same session, there is a pearl beyond price: forty-two seconds of Charlie Christian, then Hot Lips Page, backed by James P., working on a passage in the arrangement.  (By the way, there are some Charlie Christian accompaniments in that 1939 session that I had never heard before, and I’d done my best to track down all of the Ida Cox takes.  Guitar fanciers please note.)  The transfers are as good as we are going to hear in this century, and the photographs (several new to me) are delights.

Hearing these recordings in context always brings new insights to the surface. My own epiphany of this first listening-immersion is a small one: the subject is HOW COULD I BE BLUE? (a record I fell in love with decades ago, and it still delights me).  It’s a duo-performance for James  P. and Clarence Williams, with scripted vaudeville dialogue that has James P. as the 1930 version of Shorty George, the fellow who makes love to your wife while you are at work, and the received wisdom has been that James P. is uncomfortable with the dialogue he’s asked to deliver, which has him both the accomplished adulterer and the man who pretends he is doing nothing at all.  Hearing this track again today, and then James P. as the trickster in I FOUND A NEW BABY, which has a different kind of vaudeville routine, it struck me that James P. was doing his part splendidly on the first side, his hesitations and who-me? innocence part of his character.  He had been involved with theatrical productions for much of the preceding decade, and I am sure he knew more than a little about acting.  You’ll have to hear it for yourself.

This, of course, leaves aside the glory of his piano playing.  I don’t think hierarchical comparisons are all that useful (X is better than Y, and let’s forget about Z) but James P.’s melodic improvising, whether glistening or restrained, never seems a series of learned motives.  Nothing is predictable; his dancing rhythms (he is the master of rhythmic play between right and left hands) and his melodic inventiveness always result in the best syncopated dance music.  His sensitivity is unparalleled.  For one example of many, I would direct listeners to the 1931 sides by Rosa Henderson, especially DOGGONE BLUES: where he begins the side jauntily, frolicking as wonderfully as any solo pianist could — not racing the tempo or raising his volume — then moderates his volume and muffles his gleaming sound to provide the most wistful counter-voice to Henderson’s recital of her sorrows.  Another jaunty interlude gives way to the most tender accompaniment.  I would play this for any contemporary pianist and be certain of their admiration.

I am impressed with this set not simply for the riches it contains, but for the possibility it offers us to reconsider one of my beloved jazz heroes.  Of course I would like people to flock to purchase it (in keeping with Mosaic policy, it is a limited edition, and once it’s gone, you might find a copy on eBay for double price) but more than that, I would like listeners to do some energetic reconstruction of the rather constricted canon of jazz piano history, which usually presents “stride piano” as a necessary yet brief stop in the forward motion of the genre or the idiom — as it moves from Joplin to Morton to Hines to Wilson to Tatum to “modernity.”  Stride piano is almost always presented as a type of modernized ragtime, a brief virtuosic aberration with a finite duration and effect. I would like wise listeners to hear James P. Johnson as a pianistic master, his influence reaching far beyond what is usually assumed.

JAMES P. postage stamp

I was happy to see James P. on a postage stamp, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough, as the Mosaic set proves over and over again. I would like James P. Johnson to be recognized as “the dean of jazz pianists”:

jamesp-johnsongravemarker

Listen closely to this new Mosaic box set six compact discs worth of proof that the genius of James P. Johnson lives on vividly.

May your happiness increase!

THE MAIL; THE PROBLEMS; THE BREEZES: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH at the ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 10, 2015)

Two beautiful exercises in swing and feeling from the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party, created by Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  The first is a Thirties song so associated with Fats Waller than some believe him to be the composer, which isn’t the case:

I'M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN

I deplore the current use of “gonna,” but here I accept it without flinching.

The second is one of Rossano’s wonderful medleys — joining EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (a song I cherish for its mixture of self-pity and self-mockery) and the Charlie Christian blues, SOFT WINDS:

What beautiful merging of three individual sounds!  Rossano and Nicki appear often as a duo, and have made several wonderful CDs, but I believe this is their first collaboration with Hal — who fits them delightfully.  I delight in his swinging brushwork throughout, shades of Jo and Sidney especially as SOFT WINDS shifts into its highest gear without getting any faster.

Such music happens regularly at the Allegheny Jazz Party . . . and will again in September 2016.

May your happiness increase!

SWING, BROTHERS, SWING: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Rob Adkins (string bass and catalyst) brought two of his illustrious friends to Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City for a Sunday afternoon gig on October 25th — the inventive pianist Ehud Aherie and the very lyrical swinging reedman Dan Block.  Here‘s the first part of that afternoon’s Hymn to Beauty.

And four more.

WHO? (rarely played in jazz, but certainly linked to Lester via the odd and wonderful Glenn Hardman 1939 session):

I COVER THE WATERFRONT (from Louis to Billie to Lester to everyone):

BABY BROWN (written by Alex Hill but forever identified with Fats Waller):

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Tram, Bix, and many more, including Jimmy Rushing):

Couldn’t be better.

May your happiness increase!