Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fats Waller's "Yes!"

Fats Waller's small-group recordings with "His Rhythm," as the band was known, sometimes end with Waller speaking, usually for no more than a split-second -- a quiet "Yes, yes" or an exuberant "Yes!" Sometimes he talks for a few seconds. I like to imagine Waller fans back in the 1930s, listening to a brand-new 78-rpm record and wondering what they are going to hear at the end of each side.

Comedians always run the risk of not being taken seriously, but the jive in these closing quips should mislead no one -- Fats Waller was a brilliant pianist, a dexterous organist, a distinctive singer, an inspired songwriter ("Ain't Misbehavin'," "Black and Blue," "Honeysuckle Rose," among others). His solo-piano pieces are elegant multi-themed miniatures ("African Ripples" and "Smashing Thirds" are my favorites). His small groups, with Herman Autrey (trumpet), Gene Sedric (clarinet, tenor), Al Casey (guitar), and other musicians, cook like no one else's. His hilarious, snarky renditions of sentimental lyrics turn treacle into gold. Fats Waller's "Yes!" is, to my ears, an affirmation of the joys of music and laughter.

Here are my favorite last words from the recordings collected in Proper Records' 4-CD Fats Waller set:

"Do Me a Favor"
Yes, yes. Listen honey, have you got a dollar-ninety? 'Cause I got the dime. But you might as well go out and find a parson. Ha, ha.

"How Can You Face Me?" [spoken over the last chorus]
Ah, you're a dirty dog. Get out in the street. Get out, get out. How can you face me now? No, I didn't go there last night. No, you know I wasn't there neither. I went to the other place. Yes! Don't you talk back to me. Shut up. Well, all right. Take your dogs on out. Yes. Get outta this gutter. Keep goin', keep goin'. Yes!

"I'm a Hundred Percent for You"
Yes. Yes. Yes. Veddy!

"Lulu's Back in Town"
Oh, that woman's back in town. Oh, my, my. My, my.

"Christopher Columbus"
Well, looka there. Christy grabbed the Santa Maria and he's goin' back. Yeah. Uh huh. Looka there. Uh huh. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. What'd I say?

"Black Raspberry Jam"
Take your finger outta my jam.

Oh, you tricky thing, you thought you tricked me. Hey, hey. Nix, nix.

"The Joint Is Jumpin'"
Don't give your right name, no, no, no.

"Your Feet's Too Big"
Your, err, your pedal extremities really are obnoxious. One never knows, do one?
You can learn more about Fats Waller by visiting "Fats Waller Forever," hosted by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. Yes!

      » Fats Waller Forever

comments: 1

Anonymous said...

A fine Arabian mess!

Common Yard Dog