For those of us who have been suffering from a recent overdoes of the highly-arranged, sophisticated jazz of small groups like the Goodman Sextet and the John Kirby band, it's something of a pleasure to get on a Fats Waller Kick. While other orchestras have been receiving terrific publicity from swing critics and press agents, Fats and his band have remained somewhat in the background. For the past several years they have not been getting half the praise they deserve.
Stylistically the direct antithesis of the polished type of swing that has become extremely popular, Fats and his boys have a way of playing which is so completely effortless that the casual listener often tends to disregard the band and go on to something with more flash and immediate appeal. Yet take it from me, with the exception of the Red Allen band at New York's Cafe Society, you won't hear better jazz in a small combination. Take, for instance, the way the band plays on ordinary pop tune. They open it with a light, bouncing piano chorus, and then Fats gives a vocal burlesque of the phoney Broadway sentiment voiced in the lyrics. After everybody digs a bit more, Gene Cedric (who, incidentally, is probably the most unappreciated jazz musician alive), slips in a tenor ride passage and Herman Autrey a trumpet. Finally, Fats takes the release, and by the time everybody else comes in for a terrific finish on the last eight bars, the tune is properly murdered. And I don't know of any small band that can take a finish the way Fats and his boys do. They've been playing together so long now, that their "collective improvisation" is almost second nature.
Besides being a finished jazz artist, Fats is a showman par excellence, and ranks with such topnotch colored entertainers as Bill Robinson, Eddie Anderson, and Louis Armstrong. Even Hughes Pannassie is forced to recognize Fat's insane sense of humor.
Once you start listening to Waller's records, you can't get enough, so I'd like to suggest several which impress me as being representative of Fats at his best. Sweet and Slow (1934 vintage), Big Chief De Sota and It's A Sin To Tell A Lie (You can imagine what Fats does to the latter), My Mommie Sent Me to the Store, and finally Send Me Jackson. (The last two have exceptional Cedric choruses).
NEWS AND NEW RELEASES. Muggsy Spanier has left Bob Crosby and will form his own band. Muggsy is a cornetist from way back, and one of the few musicians whose work has never at any time dropped below the standard of hot jazz at its finest. So whatever Muggsy does, you can count on a good job. . . Count Basic tries the experiment of a fast blues in rhumba time. It's called Volcano, and features a swell muted trumpet chorus by Harry Edison. In the ensemble, the brass section takes top honors (OKEH). . . Lionel Hampton's new sextet includes a four-man rhythm section, a fiddle, and a clarinet. Band's VICTOR recording of Altitude is somewhat over-arranged, but the solos are worth hearing. The tune was written by Irving Ashby, Little Dixie '40. . . Record of the week: VICTOR'S reissue of Dickie Wells Blues, cut a few years ago in Europe. It's just a slow blues from bone solo with rhythm backing, but Dickie has a wealth of ideas, and plays with great feeling. Reverse is Bill Coleman Blues, with Coleman on the trumpet backed by guitarist Django Reinhardt. Trumpet is muted all the way through, and the music is at once restrained in attack yet powerful in beat(despite the one-man rhythm section). . . Glenn Miller's Song of the Volga Boatmen (BLUEBIRD) is probably going to be a terrific hit in juke-box circles. I'm so happy.