"Swing's harmful little armful" drifted into town this week. The one and only Thomas "Fats" Waller is at the Southland with his band. And don't get the impression that when you go down there, you're going to hear fourteen or fifteen men earnestly endeavoring to blow their (and your) heads off. Far from this, Fats carries only six men in his band. But between some really mad kidding around, they get off some swell jazz for both listening and dancing.
When up in New York's Harlem a short time ago, I wandered into a session at the Moonglow on 145th Street (highly recommended!) which had some of the best orchestra piano I had heard in a long time. Asked the guy where he learned his style, to which he replied, "My name's Willy Gans, I can sho' play a mess of piano, and I learnt it all from Fats Waller." The point about this whole business is that Fats just can't get hep to this modern school of frill pianists. Most guys playing today play a lot of very fast and fancy right hand work, leaving the rhythm and the chord changes of the left hand to the bass and guitar.
With Fats, on the other hand, there's no doubt whatsoever about what's coming. When he hits a bass note, it stays hit--the result being a fine jump rhythm that literally pushes a band along. Hugues Panaissie, the famous French swing critic, has long ranked Fats right with Earl Hines as the greatest, not only in orchestra, but in solo work.
When I last heard Fats, he had three of the greatest men in the business playing for him in the persons of Eugene Cedric (tenor sax), Herman Autry (trumpet), and Albert Casey (guitar). Since then, Casey has joined Teddy Wilson's band, but all else remains as good.
Besides being a real pianist, Fats is a marvelous showman. Not only can he add some extremely funny innuendoes to the most innocuous songs, but be manages to put a spirit of horseplay into everything he does that makes an evening of listening to him an event.
And in addition to writing such swing classics as "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Ain't Misbehavin'," Fats makes a specialty of taking hopelessly syrupy tunes that no other swing band would touch, and converting them into classics that keep the record collectors scrambling. Historic examples of this trait are "Sweet and Low" and "West Wind," with lyrics as only Fats can do them.
The cats' meow: This week Red Norvo announced that he was sick and tired of the cut-throat competition in jazz and the necessity of playing what he considered to be rotten music in order to get a lot of work, and announced that he was from now on going to work only a few nights a week, make records, and that he was going to take postgraduate work at Juillard Institute in New York just for the fun of it! There are too few guys like this who want to play good, relaxed music so much that they will give up a prosperous livelihood, and too many like Tommy Dorsey and Artic Shaw who are so busy looking for the big money they don't have time to relax in their music or their personal manner. . . .
Two of the finest albums of jazz program music yet to be issued appeared a short time ago in the discs of Irving Berlin by Paul Whiteman. Whiteman has utilized to the highest extent his various instrumental ensembles, extremely capable vocal quartet, the Modernnaires, and singer Joan Edwards. Space won't permit discussion of each record, but the two albums, presenting some of the really great tunes of jazz ("Blue Skies," "Remember," etc.) are highly recommended.