Fats Waller created joy.
In the 1939 photograph, he is with his manager Shep Allen at the Howard Theatre: credit to Scurlock Studios and thanks to Chuck Slate.
Although Fats has been elsewhere for almost sixty-five years, he continues to inspire. One example is this sweetly energetic session recorded by the ubiquitous, diligent Rae Ann Berry (all hail! all hail!) at the second annual Hot Jazz Jubilee in Rancho Cordova, California.
This energized band — titled JUST KATIE AND FRIENDS — was, for this wonderful gathering, our Miss Cavera, guitar, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal; Chris Calabrese, piano; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal.
Their repertoire for this set was primarily Fats — songs composed / featured by him — as well as by fellow pianists Claude Hopkins and Earl Hines. A ringer, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, is by Irving Berlin — but both Fats and the Paul Whiteman band recorded it.
Notice that JK&F doesn’t aim to reproduce the Waller-Autrey-Sedric-Casey ambiance; there is a welcome absence of “Wallerisms,” either in rapid tempos or shouts by the ensemble. Chris Calabrese, bless him, can hold his own in any stride session, so the relaxed approach is everyone’s choice.
What you will experience is a congenial group of swinging pals, and you might hear echoes of Henry “Red” Allen, Mouse Randolph, J.C. Higginbotham, Al Morgan, Carmen Mastren, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Count Basie, the Rhythmakers — an aesthetic roundtrip between 1936 and 2014 — but the individual resonances and loving nods coalesce into a joyous whole.
THAT RHYTHM MAN:
HOW CAN YOU FACE ME? (with Katie’s rather plaintive inquiry):
FAIR AND SQUARE (in memory of Lueder Ohlwein and the Sunset Music Company as well as Fats, with an egalitarian vocal by Marc):
UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG:
LONESOME ME (a feature for the extremely talented Mr. Calabrese):
WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (with hopeful vocalizing by Clint):
ROSETTA (sung by our Sam, with echoes of THE SOUND OF JAZZ):
BABY BROWN (by Alex Hill, who is reputedly the true composer of the next tune as well):
I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, an earnest assertion from Clint:
Fats gave us everything he had, and we are still smiling at what (Just) Katie and Friends have made from his inspirations.
We don’t have to wait for The Real Thing To Come Along. Surely it’s here.
Ms. Berry is essential to our edification, for here is her regularly-updated list of San Francisco / Bay Area hot jazz attractions; here is her YouTube channel, where she has nearly a thousand subscribers (she’s been posting videos since March 2008).
And she’s had a direct influence on my life, because I saw all there was to see of hot California jazz through her efforts, and you know the rest. She’s also on Facebook, displaying the same energies as her improvising heroes.
May your happiness increase!