1. The Minor Drag
2. Curse of an Aching Heart
3. Cabin in the Sky
4. What’s the Reason?
5. LuLu’s Back in Town
6. Honey Hush
9. Black & Blue
10. Christopher Columbus
11. I Used to Love You
12. Two Sleepy People
13. Your Feet’s Too Big
14. Yacht Club Swing
15. Ain’t Misbehavin’
16. Music Maestro Please
17. Oh Looka There Ain’t She Pretty?
Geoff Cole – Trombone, vocals (tracks 7 and 15)
Tony Pyke – Clarinet, alto sax
Pat Hawes – Piano, vocals (tracks 2, 11, and 13)
Ken Matthews – String bass
Colin Miller – Drums
Tom Waller – Commentary & analysis
Recorded Dave Bennett Studio, England, on Feb. 2 & 3, 1999.
Thomas Wright Waller, known to the world as “Fats” Waller, was one of the
foremost practitioners of stride piano. As well as being a fine jazz
pianist and, occasionally, organist, he was also a prolific composer with
more than four hundred songs copyrighted under his name as composer or
collaborator, often with Andy Razaf having written the lyrics. Many others
were most likely never attributed to him as stories are legion about Fats
exchanging songs for hamburgers or selling outright the copyrights of
others for a few dollars to purchase gargantuan meals with which to satisfy
his prodigious appetite, producing his considerable girth and nickname.
In addition to all of that he was a considerable humorist, satirizing some
of the pedestrian songs he had to record and, at the same time, giving
swinging renditions to many of these same songs. Some of his compositions
have become standards, part of the American Song Book, such as Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Honeysuckle Rose (the former on
this disc, the latter not) with lyrics by Razaf.
It is no surprise that Waller became the stuff of legend: witness the
stories about him and Al Capone and the three-day party, or his and Eddie
Condon’s riding in a cab to a recording session and Waller composing Minor Drag as they rode along in the cab, for example.
Given all of that, the question of what to include or allude to in a
tribute to this giant is one that Cole and company had to consider, and
they seem to have found a happy medium by way of an answer. Wisely they
eschew a pastiche, although they do adhere to the group size of Waller’s
Rhythm. Waller invariably had a quintet or sextet; Cole has the former,
although it does not include a trumpet, as did Waller’s. But the piano is
not front and center here, as it is with Waller’s groups. As to the vocals
that one always associates with Waller, the two musicians who sing on this
CD (only on five of the fifteen tracks) do not seem intent on imitating
Waller. Of the two perhaps Hawes comes closest to sounding like Fats,
particularly on Your Feet’s Too Big. Cole does not sound like
Waller in the least. So all told the “sound” of this CD is not “Wallerish,”
but the “feeling” is.
What to include from the wide array of Waller recordings is a decision
which would be quite personal. We get no clues as to how the choices were
made, but certainly many if not most of the selections will be familiar to
anyone who has any acquaintance with the Fats Waller groups and records.
Some are more well-known than others, perhaps: Ain’t Misbehavin’; Your Feet’s Too Big; Black and Blue (although
Waller never recorded this tune)—others less so: Honey Hush; What’s the Reason; I Used to Love You.
As to the tempi, Waller in the main tended to take these at a faster clip
than does Cole, but the more leisurely pace does not seem to me to be
detrimental, although there may be just a slight loss of the excitement
that the Waller renditions achieve on such tracks asChristopher Columbus or Ain’t Misbehavin’ or Oh Looka There Ain’t She Pretty? The slower tempo also results in
a less raucous treatment than Waller gave in his recording of each.
Perhaps to keep firmly before us that this is Fats material that is being
handled, someone made the decision to lift some of Fats’ comments (I see
little by way of analysis that the back case inlay refers to) from
the Waller recordings and drop them in here, either at the end of a track
(as those on track 10 or track 13) or at the beginning (as that on track 13
or track 14). Not all relate to the song to which Fats attached
them—witness “One never knows, do one?” taken from Fats’ Your Feet’s Too Big and tacked on here to Minor Drag.
It was something of a tragedy that Waller died of pneumonia at the early
age of 39 on December 15, 1943 while travelling by train from California to
New York. Despite his rather short life, he left a substantial body of
work, and Cole and friends present us with some of the highlights of that
oeuvre as a reminder and as a fitting tribute. It is good to have this
reissue of this recording (the initial one titled “One Never Knows – Do
One?”) available again. One can once more savor the Cole group’s excellent
interpretations and be reminded of what a treasure Waller was.
Jazz Crusade CDs are available on the Upbeat web site www.upbeat.co.uk as well as from
on-line sites such as Amazon.ere