Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


My parents started me on my life of jazz-fandom on my 15th birthday, when they gave me the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. One nugget it took me years to appreciate was a solo piano piece by Fats Waller. But now, wow.

Fats. First of all a great songwriter: Ain't Misbehavin', Jitterbug Waltz, Honeysuckle Rose, Keepin' Out of Mischief Now. More famously, maybe, as a comic jazz singer-pianist-bandleader. If you haven't seen the clip of him singing "The Joint it Jumpin'" (his own song), you have something to look forward to. An enormous man with a high-pitched voice, batting his eyes at the camera, singing and playing in a crowded roomful of dancing people. Cops knock on the door to bust the party, but they hear the music and start dancing too. Utopia.

Songwriter and singer, yes, and as a pianist, damn. Out of the Harlem school of "stride" piano, a big influence on Count Basie (even though they're the same age) and Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. He recorded many beautiful stride solos in the '20s. But one particular recording session on June 11, 1937, he set a standard for ruminative sweet nostalgic humorous gorgeous melancholy solo piano playing that's never been matched. The Waller tune on the Smithsonian Collection is from this session.

He only recorded five tunes that day. I hadn't known how many until the other day. I'd heard three of them on two different Fats compilations, and loved them so much I ached to hear more, if more there were.

Via Google, I found this Fats Waller web site. Not only does it list all of the songs he recorded on that date, but you can listen to them, complete, for free. The happiness of finding my question answered was immediately topped by the realization that I could listen to them RIGHT NOW. And FOR FREE. The ones I hadn't heard were just as great as the ones I had.

These are the songs.

Basin Street Blues by Spencer Williams. Interesting and prolific African American songwriter; great song. The "chorus" of the song is the first song I learned on guitar; I didn't know the words or the melody, but the chords were cool. Turtletop correspondent Jay Sherman-Godfrey taught me.

I Ain't Got Nobody by Abel Baer, Samuel Lewis, and Joseph Young. Don't know these guys, but the song was made famous by Louis Prima and, later, David Lee Roth in a Prima homage.

Keeping Out Of Mischief Now by Fats Waller. Barbra Streisand sang this on her first album, with a wink of Waller-ian insincerity -- oh yeah, I'm keeping out of mischief!

Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael. One of the most beautiful songs ever. Fats's version may be slightly over-the-top, with harp-like arpeggios in the treble as the left hand plays the melody. I love it.

Tea For Two by Vincent Youmans, words by Irving Caesar. A '20s classic.

Free music. And astoundingly beautiful. Fats is a king.

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