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Re: [RedHotJazz] Fats Waller was shopworn sentimentalism

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  • Howard Rye
    Great artists who get trapped in commercial formulas have a great tendency to become parodies of themselves. Ray Charles is a terrible more recent example.
    Message 1 of 9 , Sep 4, 2008
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      Great artists who get trapped in commercial formulas have a great tendency
      to become parodies of themselves. Ray Charles is a terrible more recent
      example. Others somehow resist and manage to sound new-minted everytime you
      hear them even if they are doing the same thing yet again. B. B. King is a
      nearly incredible recent example. I think Louis Armstrong is another. Others
      hear self-parody, which is a warning that clichéd judgements are clichéd
      judgements, including probably the two I¹ve just made.

      I guess Fats¹s efforts started as parodies of the songs and became both
      parodies of the songs and increasingly parodies of his own treatment of them
      as well. It is inevitable that when a regular group of the kind Fats had
      works in this kind of formula they will sometimes repeat themselves but they
      should clearly be judged by their best efforts.

      I don¹t recall any evidence that Fats was unhappy doing this stuff and
      suspect this was invented by enthusiasts to cover their embarrassment at the
      clowning. We would prefer a higher proportion of 100% serious piano playing
      but unfortunately the contemporary audience didn¹t.

      The others you mention mainly used pick-up groups that never had the
      opportunity to become formulaic, so the comparison is not really a fair one.
      Added to which Manone and Howard and Dandridge were occasional able to hire
      greats who were not available for this kind of thing night after night. No
      wonder their records are sometimes better.

      Howard and Dandridge were ³jazz entertainers² drafted in as competition for
      Fats by Decca and ARC respectively. I think we can easily enough judge them
      by noting that piano chores were soon ceded to others. Howard¹s piano solos
      (recorded in London) are pub piano performed at two tempos (very fast and
      even faster). His early records under his real name (Howard Joyner) are
      crooning. You wouldn¹t really expect his records to be of interest except
      for the accompaniments I think.

      Not sure about bringing Allen in here at all. His Vocalions (made presumably
      to compete with Armstrong¹s Deccas) hardly guy the material at all. They are
      straight jazz singing (if that isn¹t a contradiction in terms). Again there
      is no regular band involved.

      on 04/09/2008 09:21, David Brown at johnhaleysims@... wrote:

      >
      >
      >
      > Hello Bob
      >
      > Yes, Fats great performer and musician. And yes, without the humour there
      > would surely be less because that's what sold.
      >
      > Received cliché that within the jovial fat clown was a serious and sad
      > artist struggling to emerge. But maybe he did not struggle enough.
      >
      > Comparable with Louis Jordan with whom, however, you get the impression that
      > the humour was real. With Fats the parody is not so much of the trite
      > material as of Fats' own public personna.
      >
      > Musically, the Rhythm sides are generally not as good as others working in
      > the same area such as Manone, Allen or even Prima. Even the appalling Waller
      > clones, Bob Howard and Putney Dandridge, often offer music of a higher
      > quality.
      >
      > The 'complete' Wallers are being issued by JSP in Kendalls and, although I
      > have not heard, I expect these are the ones to have.
      >
      > Dave_,_._,___
      >
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      >
      >
      >


      Howard Rye, 20 Coppermill Lane, London, England, E17 7HB
      howard@...
      Tel/FAX: +44 20 8521 1098




      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Bob Mates
      Hi, Dave: You have a good point: perhaps, Fats was a victim of his own persona; had to live up to his image. When that happens, you try to be funny. Of
      Message 2 of 9 , Sep 4, 2008
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        Hi, Dave: You have a good point: perhaps, Fats was a victim of
        his own persona; had to live up to his image. When that happens,
        you try to be funny. Of course, when you try, you usually
        aren't.
        This whole area of discussion about artists, trapped by their
        public persona, is an interesting one. Nadine Kohodas, in her
        biography of Dinah Washington, says that, in her later years,
        (seems funny to write that phrase, since Dinah died at age 38),
        she tried to live up to her nickname, "the queen". It changed
        her personality, and it made her spend so much money, that when
        she died, she was deep in debt. As for Fats, I've read that, by
        the end of his life, he was getting tired of the grind of
        touring. Perhaps, if he'd lived, he would have devoted more time
        to writing Broadway shows, which he really enjoyed. Perhaps,
        too, as the musical tastes had changed, he wouldn't have been
        expected to be funny all of the time, and you would have heard a
        lot of different stuff. Who knows? What I do know is that it's
        tragic and sad to think that he died at the ripe old age of 39.
        I've heard about the JSP reissues. They're on my list, after I
        get the two Box sets of pre-war blues I want.
        A couple final points. Fats made about 600 sides; 400 or so with
        his "Rhythm." Not all of them were good. You'd have to expect
        that, though, with that volume of work.
        There's a good book about Louis Jordan, LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL.
        Apparently, Louis was not the easiest guy to work with. He was
        an absolute perfectionist. He was also not the easiest guy to be
        married to, having had about 4 wives. However, I happen to love
        his recordings. They're funny in many cases, and they're great,
        musically.
        I've heard of Bob Howard, but not Putney Dandridge. I'll have to
        look for him.
        Well, this has certainly been a minor book, hasn't it? Thanks for
        reading this, and take care. Bob
      • Tommer
        Message 3 of 9 , Sep 4, 2008
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          --- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, Bob Mates <bluesbob@...> wrote:
          >
          > Hi, Dave: You have a good point: perhaps, Fats was a victim of
          > his own persona; had to live up to his image. When that happens,
          > you try to be funny. Of course, when you try, you usually
          > aren't.
          > This whole area of discussion about artists, trapped by their
          > public persona, is an interesting one. Nadine Kohodas, in her
          > biography of Dinah Washington, says that, in her later years,
          > (seems funny to write that phrase, since Dinah died at age 38),
          > she tried to live up to her nickname, "the queen". It changed
          > her personality, and it made her spend so much money, that when
          > she died, she was deep in debt. As for Fats, I've read that, by
          > the end of his life, he was getting tired of the grind of
          > touring. Perhaps, if he'd lived, he would have devoted more time
          > to writing Broadway shows, which he really enjoyed. Perhaps,
          > too, as the musical tastes had changed, he wouldn't have been
          > expected to be funny all of the time, and you would have heard a
          > lot of different stuff. Who knows? What I do know is that it's
          > tragic and sad to think that he died at the ripe old age of 39.
          > I've heard about the JSP reissues. They're on my list, after I
          > get the two Box sets of pre-war blues I want.
          > A couple final points. Fats made about 600 sides; 400 or so with
          > his "Rhythm." Not all of them were good. You'd have to expect
          > that, though, with that volume of work.
          > There's a good book about Louis Jordan, LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL.
          > Apparently, Louis was not the easiest guy to work with. He was
          > an absolute perfectionist. He was also not the easiest guy to be
          > married to, having had about 4 wives. However, I happen to love
          > his recordings. They're funny in many cases, and they're great,
          > musically.
          > I've heard of Bob Howard, but not Putney Dandridge. I'll have to
          > look for him.
          > Well, this has certainly been a minor book, hasn't it? Thanks for
          > reading this, and take care. Bob
          >
        • David Brown
          Red Allen recorded Take Me Back To My Boots And Saddle and On The Beach At Bali-Bali and other such insubstantial and inappropriate material. But he made
          Message 4 of 9 , Sep 4, 2008
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            Red Allen recorded 'Take Me Back To My Boots And Saddle' and 'On The Beach
            At Bali-Bali' and other such insubstantial and inappropriate material. But
            he made superb music out of them.

            Wingie, who brought out the dark side of ostensibly the lightest novelty,
            also delivered music of sombre and sincere beauty. 'Cottage On The Moon', a
            minor but fine pop song, is totally enhanced. Even 'The Good Ship Lollipop'
            becomes good jazz with Wingie making the best of it and not falling into
            nudge wink parody.

            But no other musician approached the vast factory output of Waller and it is
            a wonder that so much is of such high quality for mere pop music.

            Dave




            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • John O
            ... I agree, the tongue in cheek vocals are evident on his earliest sides as a singer, like the great I m Crazy Bout My Baby / Draggin My Heart Around
            Message 5 of 9 , Sep 5, 2008
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              --- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, "David Brown" <johnhaleysims@...>
              wrote:
              >
              > With Fats the parody is not so much of the trite
              > material as of Fats' own public personna.

              I agree, the "tongue in cheek" vocals are evident on his earliest
              sides as a singer, like the great "I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby"/"Draggin'
              My Heart Around" (1931)--I don't think he's mocking these tunes,
              composed by himself and Alex Hill. However, I feel a session of six
              Fats originals on June 8, 1936 is somewhat marred by his continuous
              spoken asides.

              In general, he does exaggerate the vocal eccentricities in proportion
              with a song's absurdity... Where a more conventional singer might
              actually attempt to put over "Eep Ipe, I Wanna Piece Of Pie", I think
              a more sensitive artist would instinctively demolish it, as Fats did.

              After his various important works of the '20s (in 1929 Louis and Duke
              each had sessions of entirely Fats material), Waller and His Rhythm
              was a depression-era small band, maintained through the big band
              era... the dross perhaps a means justifying great ends: originals,
              hard-swingers, and band instrumentals, the solo piano sides of 1934,
              1937, and 1941, and any record on which Fats plays the organ.

              His transcriptions show different sides of Fats (as on the marathon
              1935 Associated date, also the opera arias and sprituals--hear the
              wonderful "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane"--on the 1939 Lang-Worth
              discs). The London Suite marks another classic, and the V-Discs of
              1943 display a master entertainer, a master jazzman, and an artist of
              great depth, whiskey intake notwithstanding.

              Listening to CD 'The Complete Thomas "Fats" Waller and his Rhythm Vol.
              2 1935' (King Jazz KJ 115 FS)--John RT transfers, great music
              throughout, though granted I'm not scrutinizing the band's solos with
              a microscope... The first four volumes all claim JRT transfers, and I
              suspect these are unsurpassed on CD.

              I've only heard Volume 1 of the JSP boxes--the series aims to issue
              his complete commercial recordings, with all alternatives, some not
              reissued before, and a few previously unissued. Volume 1 sounds
              decent enough, yet slightly homogenized--some natural ambience lost,
              perhaps. Most of the Victors were very well recorded to begin with; I
              feel that often the best thing to do with a good transfer is to leave
              it alone.
            • Patrice Champarou
              ... From: John O To: Sent: Friday, September 05, 2008 11:23 PM Subject: [RedHotJazz] Re: Fats Waller was
              Message 6 of 9 , Sep 6, 2008
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                ----- Original Message -----
                From: "John O" <spacelights@...>
                To: <RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com>
                Sent: Friday, September 05, 2008 11:23 PM
                Subject: [RedHotJazz] Re: Fats Waller was shopworn sentimentalism


                > --- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, "David Brown" <johnhaleysims@...>
                > wrote:
                >>
                >> With Fats the parody is not so much of the trite
                >> material as of Fats' own public personna.
                >
                > I agree, the "tongue in cheek" vocals are evident on his earliest
                > sides as a singer, like the great "I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby"/"Draggin'
                > My Heart Around" (1931)--I don't think he's mocking these tunes,
                > composed by himself and Alex Hill.

                Just on this, I have the same feeling about Two Sleepy People, which I find
                very moving. This is all subjective of course, but I think there is often a
                "third degree" beyond parody, something similar - to me, at least - to the
                effect produced by the great arrangements of Spike Jones on Nutcracker Suite
                or, in a completely different mood, some of his groovy Charlestons. The link
                between both is again a combination of parody and perfectionism (did someone
                happen to also mention Louis Jordan here?) but in Fat's case, I think the
                songs and arrangements in themselves are never initially meant as parodic -
                very few novelty effects, and no joking in his piano playing either), it's
                just his vocal rendition which turns some into caricatures, either
                intendedly or sometimes because he "cannot help". As if he needed to offer a
                contrast between his virtuoso piano playing and his clowning personality,
                compulsively settling a "distance" while singing something too sentimental
                which, once you get used to the jest, still reaches its aim. The great Rose
                Murphy - his best follower IMO as far as piano playing is concerned - partly
                managed to catch this, with of course a completely different approach.

                Patrice
              • David Brown
                Right. The mugging while other musicians were soloing is hard to excuse. Autrey and Sedric were decent and original players and must have been diminished.
                Message 7 of 9 , Sep 6, 2008
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                  Right. The mugging while other musicians were soloing is hard to excuse.
                  Autrey and Sedric were decent and original players and must have been
                  diminished. Notwithstanding how tawdry the material, I believe musical
                  standards must be as high as possible. Louis always took the music
                  seriously. I've just been playing Lips Page Deccas and the material is the
                  pits and so are the non-Lips vocals but the musical quality of Lips and the
                  band in this context is stunning.

                  And right, Fats could deliver a good song with sincerity. I cite 'I Believe
                  In Miracles' which offers some of the greatest obligato trumpet playing on
                  record. But also, as early as 1934, he destroys 'If It Isn't Love', a song
                  no worse. He almost gets through 'Louisiana Fairy Tale' without subversion
                  but somehow cannot resist one inane aside which totally undermines the
                  tender mood he has created on this fine song. It is as if he suddenly
                  remembers that he must belie the professed sentimentality.

                  And right, blacks at that time had to be 'happy' for the white audience. As
                  did Lips and Louis. But also Wingie and, relentlessly, Prima.

                  Now was Fats' audience primarily black or white or both ?

                  Dave


                  [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                • John O
                  A unique example of parody and perfectionism might be Fats 1927 Whiteman Stomp with Henderson... I think you refer to the 1938 Victor Two Sleepy People ,
                  Message 8 of 9 , Sep 6, 2008
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                    A unique example of "parody and perfectionism" might be Fats' 1927
                    "Whiteman Stomp" with Henderson...

                    I think you refer to the 1938 Victor "Two Sleepy People", great
                    rendition indeed; the solo V-Disc version seems far more parodic (but
                    just as effective, I think).

                    During the V-Disc session, there appears a steady (perhaps
                    unintentional?) progression into real pathos. "You're A Viper (The
                    Reefer Song)" is pure theatre, all the more surreal in that it was
                    ostensibly recorded for the military(!). Incidental and rather
                    subjective (as you say)... By the time Fats switches to electric
                    organ, he is deep in his cups, so to speak. "Solitude" I find
                    fantastic, and reminiscent of Stravinsky. "Sometimes I Feel Like A
                    Motherless Child" is downright harrowing (the spoken aside "gets me"
                    each time). Maurice Waller told the story of his father attempting to
                    record this song in London, but Fats breaking down as it reminded him
                    of his departed mother.

                    Another that comes to mind is "Dry Bones": there's fun going on, but
                    something quite serious as well (it reminds me of Armstrong on "Tight
                    Like This").

                    --- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, "Patrice Champarou"
                    <patrice.champarou@...> wrote:
                    >
                    > Just on this, I have the same feeling about Two Sleepy People, which
                    I find
                    > very moving. This is all subjective of course, but I think there is
                    often a
                    > "third degree" beyond parody, something similar - to me, at least -
                    to the
                    > effect produced by the great arrangements of Spike Jones on
                    Nutcracker Suite
                    > or, in a completely different mood, some of his groovy Charlestons.
                    The link
                    > between both is again a combination of parody and perfectionism (did
                    someone
                    > happen to also mention Louis Jordan here?) but in Fat's case, I
                    think the
                    > songs and arrangements in themselves are never initially meant as
                    parodic -
                    > very few novelty effects, and no joking in his piano playing
                    either), it's
                    > just his vocal rendition which turns some into caricatures, either
                    > intendedly or sometimes because he "cannot help". As if he needed to
                    offer a
                    > contrast between his virtuoso piano playing and his clowning
                    personality,
                    > compulsively settling a "distance" while singing something too
                    sentimental
                    > which, once you get used to the jest, still reaches its aim. The
                    great Rose
                    > Murphy - his best follower IMO as far as piano playing is concerned
                    - partly
                    > managed to catch this, with of course a completely different approach.
                    >
                    > Patrice
                    >
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