Tag Archives: J.C. Johnson

“TELL ME SOMETHING SWEET!”

The beautiful long run of Victor records Fats Waller made from 1934 to 1942 often simulate a party in three minutes, where everyone is having an unrestrained good time.  The best of them are remarkable energetic fun, and a classic example is THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’.  Here’s a less famous explosion, FLOATIN’ DOWN TO COTTON TOWN, with sound effects as well as extraordinary stride piano from Fats:

Note Fats’ subversion of the minstrel-show question and answer, and his updating of the 1919 song lyrics to “children.”

But Fats could also be tender, quiet, and pensive.  Here is FAIR AND SQUARE, music by Ada Rubin (“Queenie” when she performed with Tempo King for Bluebird Records), lyrics by Andy Razaf:

The first chorus, featuring Fats without the horns, is wonderful dance music; the second chorus, where the horns hum respectfully behind him, has him making his way through the lyrics with only the slightest hint of comedy; the third chorus (only the last sixteen bars) beginning with a hint of rolling bass before the horns come in, is almost as delicate.

And here is one of his most touching performances:

But Fats’ natural exuberance, his true life-force, was joyous.  Trying to restrain it was like telling a puppy not to wag its tail.  So here are two other less-known favorites of mine, not necessarily “great songs,” although SOMETHING TELLS ME is irresistible, but I love the way Fats gently builds from quiet restrained tenderness to real joy.  SOMETHING TELLS ME (Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) also has the distinction of fine recordings by Louis and Connie Boswell.  Fats’ record starts with Gene Sedric in his best dance-band mode, with occasional celeste interjections, and then hits its swinging stride:

Candidly, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING? has most of its brilliance in its title.  The A and B sections are fairly thin variations on a repeated pianistic motif — although the bridge is an imaginative change — and the lyrics rely heavily on the end-rhymes.  But listen to how Fats moves gently from what I would call anxiety in swingtime for the first sixteen bars to hilarity, with his quacking repetition of “What!” seven or eight times, which always makes me laugh:

For many, the joyous clamor Fats generates obscures his subtleties, his gentleness and delicacy, as if it had been decided he was Our Jazz Clown.  He could whisper and cajole as well as shout.  I am amazed that no one celebrates him as a memorable singer as well as pianist and composer, creating three-minute dramas that continue to gratify us.  The “Rhythm” records could occasionally seem formulaic, but treasures abound.

May your happiness increase!  

HONEY, DO!

Yet another excursion with Louis Armstrong — backwards to 1933 and 1966 or so and forwards to yesterday, July 7, 2012.

Step One: HONEY, DO! (lyrics by Andy Razaf, music by J.C. Johnson).  It’s customary to lament how poor Louis’ bands were, but this version is swinging away for the first part of the song.  And what Louis is doing, so joyously, is beyond description:

In 1966 — more or less — department stores in suburbia all had flourishing record departments.  I don’t know which store it was, but I remember as someone too young to drive a car going off with my mother to some store (more furniture than anything) for something she needed . . . and saying to her, “Ma, I’ll be right back,” running off to the record department, forsaking all others, heading to the Louis browser, snatching up this RCA Victor anthology with one side devoted to his recordings in the early Thirties, the other to his 1946-7 efforts, giving the cashier my $2.67 or an equivalent amount, and racing back to my mother (who had bought her pillows or bowls by that time) . . . I was guilty but exultant as she stood there — with that look of mild reproach and concern that I already knew too well: translation: “Did you have to spend your allowance on another record?”  Yes, Ma, I did.  I love you and you were right but now I have HONEY, DO! — nearly fifty years later, too.  A good return on $2.67.

Fast forward to yesterday, where the Beloved and I were digging Mal Sharpe and The Big Money in Jazz Band at the No Name Bar in Sausalito.  Circumstances prevented my video-recording, but I have a story for you all instead.  Superb music from Mal, Jim Gammon, trumpet; Rob Reich, accordion; Bill DeKuiper, guitar; Ari Munkres, string bass; Pete Magadini, drums.  A vigrously rocking band that also showed off deep subtlety — a version of I GOT IT BAD with its first chorus a duet for Jim (plunger-muted) and Ari.

Early in the final set, Mal (trusting the audience a bit) asked if anyone had a request.  STARDUST was suggested but politely turned aside for the moment, as was I DOUBLE DARE YOU.  But the latter suggestion turned Mal’s thoughts to Louis, and Pete suggested HONEY, DO! — which Jim took up with ease and pleasure.  The other members of the band weren’t entirely familiar with this obscure song, but they fell in gamely and the No Name Bar was rocking as the BMIJ turned the corner into the second chorus . . . and then Mal, bless him, put down his trombone and belted out the lyrics with skill and abandon.

I’m still grinning.  Maybe I can ask them to play it again when I have a video camera handy.  You should have been there!

May your happiness increase.