Tag Archives: Fats Waller

HOT DISHES FROM THE OPTIMISTIC CAFE

Life — however you define it — got you down?  Has your trusty shield suddenly become Saran Wrap?  Has existential dread got you by the windpipe?  Are you walking in the shade?  Who filled your suitcase with bricks?

Come with us to the Optimistic Cafe.

“Hi! welcome to the Optimistic Cafe, where we brighten your day as we fill your plate.  My name is Cleo, and I’ll be your server for tonight.  Can I start you off with a burst of possibilities?”

“Hi, Cleo!  The lady would like the Waller Platter — dressing on the side, and no arugula in the salad.  Is that something the kitchen can do?”

“Can do.”

“And for you, sir?”

“I’ll take the Strong Bowl.  Rare, please, with extra sunshine, and Chittison dressing.”

“Certainly, sir.  I’ll put those orders right in.  And everything will be OK.”

May your happiness increase!

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THEY’RE BACK! DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO (Part Two): DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE, and RILEY BAKER (January 8-9, 2019)

Yesterday’s post of PARDON MY SOUTHERN ACCENT by Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang received a great deal of attention and praise . . . so here is a second helping.  But I confess that I am posting more music by this band for an even simpler reason: they make me feel jubilant, and I can’t dismiss that reaction.

Here are three more rocking performances by Dave and the Hot House Gang from February 8-9th at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California.  The swing luminaries on the stand in addition to Dave, guitar and vocal, are Gareth Price, drums; Sam Rocha, piano; David Aus, piano [taking the place of Carl Sonny Leyland for this gig]; Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet; guest star Riley Baker, trombone.

The first, ‘T’AIN’T NO USE, comes from the 1936 book of Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys:

Another reproachful meditation on romance that hasn’t quite reached the target, WHY DON’T YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH? — renowned because of Henry “Red” Allen and the Boswell Sisters.  Here it has a little glee-club flair, which works so well:

A splendid swing classic by Edgar Sampson, BLUE LOU:

Don’t they just rock the building?  I’ve known almost all of the Gang — on disc and in person — through my California Period — but I would especially call out for praise and attention a few Youngbloods, Messrs. Price, Baker, and Rocha.  How very inspiring.

May your happiness increase!

GROOVIN’ WITH DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO (Part One): DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE, and RILEY BAKER (January 9, 2019)

You’ve heard of people dowsing for water — using a forked stick or a pendulum to discern where there’s water under the surface of apparently barren land.  I think of Dave Stuckey as the modern swing equivalent.  His skill is just as rewarding, for he finds the groove where other musicians or bands might not.  Audiences, dancers, and players hear it and respond beautifully.  I’d heard Dave and the Hot House Gang only once before in person, at a Saturday-night dance at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest (results here) and on the group’s debut CD (read my review here) but these pleasurable interludes made me incredibly eager to hear Dave and Co. at the 2019 “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California — a weekend I’ve just come back from.  More about Fresno below.

Here’s one sweet convincing sample.  Dave has a deep affinity for the music Henry “Red” Allen recorded in the Thirties, and PARDON MY SOUTHERN ACCENT by Matty Malneck and Johnny Mercer is one of those memorable tunes.  Dave is joined by Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, reeds; David Aus (a newcomer, subbing this once for Carl Sonny Leyland) piano; Sam Rocha, string bass; Gareth Price, drums, and guest Riley Baker, trombone.

I video-ed everything Dave and the Gang created, and it was rather like a wonderfully unusual yet compelling blend of Fats, Wingy, Red Allen, Tempo King, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Joe and Marty Marsala, Stuff Smith, Eddie Condon, and Django — with great riffing both afternoon and evening.  They can play ballads as well as stomps, and the groove was something to behold: you could ask the dancers.

Mercer came by his Southern accent authentically, being a Savannah native.

A few words about Fresno.  It was my first visit to that jazz festival and I’ll be back next year — not only because of the fine music and the convenience (everything was under one comfortable roof) but the pervasive geniality: much friendliness from everyone, from the waitstaff to the musicians and volunteers. Thanks to Linda Shipp, Alberto, and friends for making everyone so comfortable.  And you can bet there will be more video evidence from the Hot House Gang and Bob Schulz and his Frisco Jazz Band (featuring Ray Skjelbred and Kim Cusack).

 

May your happiness increase!

“IT MUST BE SOME MAGIC ART”: DAWN LAMBETH, CONAL FOWKES, MARC CAPARONE (San Diego, Nov. 24, 2018)

Yes, it’s the Real Thing.

This wonderful little-known 1932 song by Fats Waller, Don Redman, and Andy Razaf, is yet another celebration of romantic devotion.

But it is one of the clever concoctions I call “backwards songs” for want of a better name.  The lyricist and singer don’t say “This is love,” because that gambit had animated a thousand pop songs even by this date.  Rather, the lyrics upend the expected conceit by asking, “If it ain’t love, why are its effects so powerful?”  The parallel song is the Dietz-Schwartz THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU where the singer doesn’t state “I will never tire of you,” but proposes, “I will be tired of you when — and only when — these unimaginable cosmic events take place,” entering love’s house by the window.

Here’s a very tender performance of this song — only a few months ago — by three of my favorites: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — in performance at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 24, 2018:

I love drama in music: Louis soaring; Big Sid and Sidney Bechet rocking the once-stable world; the Basie band in a final joyous eruption in the outchorus.  But I have a deep feeling for music like this, that tenderly caresses my soul, that comes in the ear like honey.  Dawn, Conal, and Marc do more than play a song: they beam love out at us.  And I, for one, am grateful.

May your happiness increase!

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!

“eddie condin racist”

On this blog, WordPress has kindly provided a feature “Search Engine Terms,” which lists the ways that anonymous web-searchers have landed on JAZZ LIVES.  Sometimes it’s edifying, sometimes amusing.  The title of this post is copied directly from a search I find infuriating.

I am going to assume that the question — translated into a literate full sentence — is “Was Eddie Condon a racist?”  If one were to deal in stereotypes, it might be a plausible question.  Condon, a Caucasian born in the Middle West in 1905, might have been expected to have the racial attitudes of his time.  But the assumption, like all stereotypes, is insulting and wrong.

Consider this, first:

The web-inquirer wouldn’t know that Mr. Condon was the only White man in this band of Black musicians, that he is responsible for getting the session recorded.  Without him it would not have happened.  (Eddie’s story of how this happened is hilarious, but it also highlights his friendship with Fats Waller and his devotion to the music.)

Jump forward twenty years: Eddie had a television show in 1948-50, with live jazz and “mixed bands”: here is just over a minute of music (transferred slightly fast) featuring Hot Lips Page, a Black trumpeter, singing a celebratory blues:

I could keep on offering musical examples, but now it’s time for words.  Condon was as far from being a racist as one can be.  From the start of his fifty-year career in the music to the end, he continually sought out, played with, hired, and celebrated musicians of color.  He speaks in print of youthful experiences watching and hearing King Oliver, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters.  When he had a club, gave concerts, made records, appeared on radio and television — his bands were race-blind.

A list of the Black musicians Eddie worked with goes something like this: Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Hot Lips Page, Buck Clayton, Rex Stewart, Benny Morton, Herb Hall, Edmond Hall, Leonard Gaskin, Vic Dickenson, Billie Holiday, Charlie Shavers, Sarah Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Kansas Fields, Al Morgan, the 1929 Luis Russell Orchestra, Sidney Bechet, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Sidney DeParis, Sidney Catlett, Jonah Jones, Teddy Hale, Leonard Davis, Happy Caldwell, George Stafford, Pops Foster, Henry “Red” Allen, Coleman Hawkins, Zutty Singleton,  Grachan Moncur, Cozy Cole, Wilson Myers, Clyde Hart, John Kirby, Oscar Pettiford, Billy Taylor, Sr., Joe Thomas, Johnny Williams, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Rushing, Sonny Greer, Cliff Jackson, Lord Buckley, Earl Hines, Albert Nicholas, Arvell Shaw, Hank Duncan, Thelma Carpenter, Ruth Brown, Horace Henderson, Jimmy Archey, Walter Page, Al Hall, Sir Charles Thompson, Maxine Sullivan, Sandy Williams, Roy Eldridge . . . and there must be others not covered by discographies.

(No, the singer above is not Lee Wiley.  But the trumpeter to the left is Roy Eldridge.)

And another story.  In 1946, after a series of very successful concerts (1943-5) that were broadcast and sent overseas to the Armed Forces, Eddie decided to give a concert in Washington, D.C., at Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who balked at his bringing a racially-mixed band because it might draw “undesirable” elements — draw your own conclusion.  Happily, Eddie moved the concert to the Willard Hotel, where it was a huge success.

None of this sounds like racism to me.  Rather, it sounds like someone who valued what human beings were, what they could create, over skin pigment. A hero to me, and to many others.

So, dear anonymous web-searcher, I hope you find this posting, that it expands your narrow vision, and that you learn to spell.

May your happiness increase!

EVERYONE’S LOOKING OUT FOR YOU, SAY MESSRS. BURKE and SPINA

Imagine a community where people are concerned about your happiness in the most affectionate ways.  Today, with smartphone-induced isolation the norm, that world full of solicitous people seems like a dream.  I don’t know if it was truly possible in the middle Thirties, although I think of Wilder’s OUR TOWN, but a charming pop song came out of that vision: one of those simple but memorable melodies with witty sweet lyrics (“who prints / blueprints” is very clever).  As you see below, music by Harold Spina and words by Johnny Burke.

I would have liked to hear Miss Etting sing this.  But we have, instead, a sweet version with the verse (as sung by Kay Weber, Ray Eberle, and the Dorsey Trio — backed by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, the emphatically swinging Ray McKinley — echoing Stan King’s accents — moving it all along):

And here’s the masterful version I heard some decades ago and still love.  This song obviously appealed to Fats, who keeps referring to the bridal march, and the last sixteen bars are a model of great delicate swing:

Here is the only “modern” version that — to me — can follow Fats (Rebecca Kilgore, Chris Dawson, Hal Smith, and Bobby Gordon):

Some readers may wish to point out more recent versions by McCartney and Clapton.  Thanks, but no thanks.  But if you want to muse on the vagaries of pop music, listen — if you can — to the versions by Johnny Angel and Joy and Dave, found on YouTube.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And thank the milkman if you’re up early.

May your happiness increase!