I am an optimistic person, even through the last ten months and contemplation of the indefinite future, but occasionally darkness creeps in. For no particular reason, yesterday was one of those days: I knew I had things I should do, but I didn’t quite know what they were, and I was quite sure I didn’t want to do them.
My mood was improved in the evening by a cyber-conversation with the many-talented Laura Windley about the 1936 song — most memorably recorded by Fats Waller, US ON A BUS. It’s not a monument of pop music: the opening cadence and the title mimic a four-note bus horn, there are many passages of repeated notes, and occasionally the lyrics trap themselves in a fairly unimaginative corner. But I love it.
And today I listened once again to that recording — what joy! — and did a little research: the song was one of perhaps two dozen composed by Tot Seymour and Vee Lawnhurst (a rarity for that time, two women turning out hit songs) — most of them in the 1935-37 period: ACCENT ON YOUTH, ALIBI BABY, CROSS PATCH, PLEASE KEEP ME IN YOUR DREAMS, THE DAY I LET YOU GET AWAY. It also gave me an excuse to remember Smith and Dale, with fondness.
Searching YouTube for other recordings of this song, I found three contemporaneous effusions — Tommy Dorsey (vocal by Edythe Wright), Shep Fields (Mary Jane Walsh), and Teddy Stauffer (the inimitable Billy Toffel). These recordings drew a straight line back to the film IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT — where the “night bus” scene is delightfully part of my cultural memory, and reminded me, once again, that “the Swing Era” wasn’t all Goodman, Basie, and Ellington, and they straightened out something that was always vague in the lyrics: “the passengers make room / whisper ‘Bride and Groom’ . . . but Fats’ recording still wins the prize.
I was ready to post the YouTube version of Fats’ 1936 Victor record with “his Rhythm” (Herman Autrey, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Charlie Turner, and Yank Porter) but an improvisation on it caught my eye — a 2016 video using the Fats recording as soundtrack:
Optimism returned. No, it nearly blew out the windows, so sweetly.
Here’s what Pell Osborn, who posted the video (and helped create it) wrote:
At the Creative Arts at Park (CAAP) summer program in Brookline, Massachusetts, students in the LineStorm animation classes created this project using the most basic equipment: pens and paper, lightboxes, colored pencils and rubber bands. As with all LineStorm projects, we built our animation the old-fashioned way — drawing by drawing. Ten drawings result in one second of screen time. Every step in hand animation is a deliberate one. What a person animates, what it will look like, how one animates it — these are huge questions that all animators deal with, from the professionals at Pixar to the LineStormers at CAAP, who confronted these issues and worked under tight time constraints. Many thanks to the students for their patience and perseverance. They came up with this rollicking, high-energy vision of “Us on A Bus,” a little-known stride-piano number performed by Thomas “Fats” Waller and his Rhythm. Pell Osborn, supervisor, assembled the more than 1200 individual images which make up the video.
What a great gift. Thanks to Fats and his men, of course, to Tot and Vee (stage names, if you were wondering), Pell, and the young people with their colored pencils. To me, you are certified Chasers of Gloom. “All out, Swing City!” indeed.
May your happiness increase!