Tag Archives: Merritt Record Society

“HAVIN’ A BALL” with JAMES P. JOHNSON, ANDY RAZAF, and . . . BENNY GOODMAN (1937)

The global attic / museum / antique shop known as eBay never fails to surprise.  Here’s something recently posted — the sheet music for a James P. Johnson / Andy Razaf song, HAVIN’ A BALL.  I don’t think it enjoyed wide currency, and I suspect it was another version of SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND and THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’ — that is, once the music is hot, everyone is happy.  Valid enough.

James P. recorded it for Columbia in 1939 — under the aegis of John Hammond — with a band including Henry “Red” Allen, Gene Sedric, J. C. Higginbotham, and Sidney Catlett — but the sides weren’t issued at the time and they only emerged on a 1962 compilation of James P.’s Columbia recordings.

Sometimes the business of music is as intriguing as the music itself.  Too much has been made of Goodman as Caucasian exploiter, and in 1937 he hardly needed to extort money from James P., Razaf, or Joe Davis to have his picture on the cover — a sure guarantee of increased sales.  And he isn’t a “co-composer” here, which suggests that the Goodman band actually played this song.  Goodman expert/ discographer David Jessup says that no broadcast performances of it exist to his knowledge.  Of course, the band might have played it at a dance that wasn’t documented or for a broadcast that wasn’t notated by Bob Inman or captured by an enthusiast with a disc recorder.

But I wonder how this partnership came to be.  Did one of the composers or publisher Davis “reach out” (as they used to say on television police shows) to a Goodman arranger and work out a mutually advantageous arrangement: a good tune for a swing band, let’s get it some airplay?  Youth wants to know.

Alas, I can’t provide an audio track.  You’ll have to find a copy of the Columbia lp FATHER OF THE STRIDE PIANO or the Classics CD on which it appears: I recall a Meritt Record Society vinyl issue had several alternate takes.

In its heyday, the tune was recorded by Fats Waller, Billy Kyle, George Zack, Max Kaminsky . . . and there is presumably a 1958 Goodman version, which suggests that an actual arrangement was created.  But when?  The only contemporary version I know is found on the Arbors CD by the International Hot Jazz Quartet — Duke Heitger, Engelbert Wroebel, Paolo Alderighi, Oliver Mewes.

Have yourself a ball!

May your happiness increase.

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