Moppin’ and Boppin’

Fats Waller (p, vcl); Benny Carter (tp); Alton “Slim” Moore (tb); Gene Porter (cl,ts); Irving Ashby (g); Slam Stewart (b); Zutty Singleton (d); Ada Brown (vcl).

Pre-recording session, 20th Century Fox soundstage

Hollywood, CA, January 23, 1943

Ain’t Misbehavin’ (FW vcl)    TCF-203, Victor 40-4003

Moppin’ and Boppin’            TCF-191, 202,Victor 40-4003

That Ain’t Right (AB & FW vcl)       TCF-201, V-Disc 165-A

 

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In January 1943, Fats Waller arrived in Hollywood to make his third feature film appearance, in 20th Century Fox’s STORMY WEATHER. His earlier Hollywood excursion, in 1935, had resulted in two memorable performances, first in RKO’s HOORAY FOR LOVE and then 20th Century Fox’s KING OF BURLESQUE.

In HOORAY, he joined with tap dancers Bill Robinson and Jeni LeGon for a delightful, lengthy sequence built around the song Livin’ In a Great Big Way. This was a typical all-black “Hollywood Harlem” number, with the Negro performers confined to the routine, with no interaction with the otherwise white cast. Southern theater owners could easily cut the song, with no effect on the film’s plot.

Fats’ other appearance was a bit different. His participation in the I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed number in KING OF BURLESQUE, actually showed him interacting (sometimes in the same frame) with white singer-dancer Dixie Dunbar and her male dancing chorus. I can’t think of an earlier instance of this situation in an American film and I haven’t found any mention of Southern objections to the performance.

Still, it would be a long time before the races met on film with any regularity. Martha Raye was roundly criticized for appearing (in blackface) with Louis Armstrong in ARTISTS AND MODELS (1937). The Nicholas Brothers tap duo met with protests over their performing with whites in TIN PAN ALLEY (1940 – with Betty Grable & Alice Faye) and THE PIRATE (1948 – with Gene Kelly). A lamentable situation.

Bojangles and Fats, 1943

Bojangles and Fats, 1943

STORMY WEATHER avoided any such potential problems, being one of two all-black musicals that appeared in 1943, the other being MGM’s CABIN IN THE SKY. Each was loaded with African-American talent and Lena Horne starred in both. Bill Robinson also starred in STORMY, but he and Fats had almost no interaction this time around.

For the soundtrack, Fats assembled a fine band of West Coast jazzmen and a few old friends. Benny Carter was working on the film as arranger and conductor of the Cab Calloway Band – featured throughout on-screen and behind the scenes.  Zutty Singleton and Fats had recorded together on some of the Billy Banks’ Rhythmakers discs in 1932. Gene Porter and Slim Moore were then members of the Benny Carter big band.  Irving Ashby had been with Lionel Hampton’s LA-based band and soon would become a stalwart of the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe and the Nat Cole Trio. Slam Stewart was then gigging on the West Coast after a sensational five-year run as the partner of Slim Gaillard in the Slim and Slam combo.  His distinctive trademark of humming along with the bass would soon be heard on a myriad of sessions with Lester Young, Benny Goodman, Art Tatum and his own groups.  Though Carter is heard on trumpet, the man playing on-screen was a look-alike actor, since Carter had too much on his plate to step in for the filming.

Fats and Ada Brown

Fats and Ada Brown

Waller is featured in a lengthy scene with his band at Ada Brown’s club in New Orleans.  Ada was a popular 1920s Vaudeville blues singer, who was then enjoying a welcome, though brief, rediscovery in Los Angeles. Her duet with Fats on That Ain’t Right is one of the film’s highlights. They play off each other affectionately, as if they had been doing so for years.  Fats slips in a reference to “balling” that must have snuck by the censors!  Manager/impresario/song publisher Irving Mills was contracted to assemble the music for the movie and not surprisingly all the tunes came from his various publishing firms.  That Ain’t Right was a relative newcomer, having been introduced in 1941 by its composer, Nat King Cole.  Mills is credited with the lyrics.

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Then it’s time for Fats’ featured number, his own Ain’t Misbehavin’, which is given a truly definitive rendition here.  Despite some hokum from the crowd and intrusive shots of Bill Robinson making goo-goo eyes at Lena Horne, Fats and the band get some nicely framed closeups, as does Zutty Singleton, showing off on the drums.  Aside from a few brief look-ins later on, Fats doesn’t have any more to do in the film.

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There is another treasure here, though. Moppin’ and Boppin’, a Waller-Benny Carter instrumental collaboration was recorded for but not featured in the picture. A few brief moments of it are heard off-screen at two points. This four-and a-half-minute tour-de-force shows everyone off at their best, starting with an arresting tom-tom intro by Zutty.

Zutty!

Zutty!

A brief solo by Gene Porter with Fats dancing on the keys is followed by an acidic high-note Carter trumpet chorus, split with Ashby.  Slam Stewart then does his thing vocally and bass-ically.  There follows a wonderful Zutty-Fats back-and-forth chorus, with some Waller vocal encouragement in the background.  A final ensemble chorus swings terrifically, with Waller getting a last spot in the release.

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It would have been a shame if these sparkling performances remained in the vaults.  That Ain’t Right surfaced in 1944 on a V-Disc. In addition to commercial recordings, broadcasts and special studio sessions, the V-Disc producers also swept up a few soundtrack items in their net.  Songs from CABIN THE SKY, DUBARRY WAS A LADY and SWEET AND LOW-DOWN (by Benny Goodman) were issued on these soldier records.  After the war, V-Disc A&R man Steve Sholes returned to his job at RCA Victor and in 1946, got permission from 20th Century Fox to issue the two Waller performances on a 12-inch 78 in Victor’s new green-label “hot jazz” series. Transferred from a lacquer he likely had glommed from Fox during the war, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Moppin’ and Boppin’  soon took their place on collectors’ shelves. The labels gave the full personnel, but no mention of the disc’s origin was mentioned. Now. of course, this music is once again legitimately available (and stunningly reproduced, I may add) on the Krtizerland CD of the STORMY WEATHER soundtrack, transferred from the original Fox 35mm film recording elements.

Steve Sholes would later get permission to issue some of Waller’s solo items from a September 1943 V-Disc session onto an RCA 45 EP.  These lovely, contemplative performances were among the last before the pianist’s untilemy death in December.

Fats' EP of V-Discs, 1953

Fats’ EP of V-Discs, 1953

It was a nice gesture on Sholes’ part to bring these forgotten items of tasty musicmaking into the public fold.  In fact, these Waller items were the only V-Disc selections to be given official release of any kind, untangling the massive red tape required from the Musicians’ Union to get these not-for-profit recordings onto commercial platters. It’s wasn’t as if Victor didn’t already have massive holdings of Fats Waller in their vaults!  I’m sure Fats was smiling down from his lofty perch on high. One never knows, do one?

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Farewell Blues

Major Glenn Miller (tb & director); Zeke Zarchy, Whitey Thomas, Bobby Nichols, Bernie Privin, Jack Steele (tp); Jimmy Priddy, James Harwood, John Halliburton, Larry Hall, Nat Peck (tb); Addison Collins (French horn); Hank Freeman, Fred Guerra, Jack Ferrier, Vinnie Carbone, Peanuts Hucko, Mannie Thaler (reeds); George Ockner (concertmaster of 20-piece string section); Mel Powell, Jack Russin (p); Carmen Mastren (g); Trigger Alpert, Joe Shulman (b); Ray McKinley, Frank Ippolito (d); Johnny Desmond, The Crew Chiefs (Artie Malvin, Steve Steck, Gene Steck, Lynn Allison, Murray Kane); Jerry Gray, Norman Leyden, Ralph Wilkinson (arr).

Add Dinah Shore (vcl)

His Master’s Voice session, HMV Abbey Road Studios. London, September 16, 1944

OEA10285-1 Star Dust (DS vcl, RW arr)                           HMV Unissued Test

OEA10286-1 All I Do Is Dream of You (DS vcl, NL arr)         HMV Unissued Test

OEA10287-1 Farewell Blues (JG arr)                                 HMV Unissued Test

OEA10288-2 I’ve Got a Heart Filled with Love (JD & CC vcl, JG arr)       HMV Unissued Test

All titles issued in 1995 on Conifer/Happy Days (E)CDHD401/2 [CD set] titled “Glenn Miller – The Lost Recordings.”

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We now reach the end of this series of Glenn Miller blog posts. On September 16th, 1944, the AAF (now AEF) Band made its sole “commercial” record date in London for HMV, RCA Victor’s UK affiliate. A complicated affair it was! Joining the band was singing star Dinah Shore, in England on a USO tour of European Allied bases. She had first performed with Miller on August 3rd, doing a live broadcast with the band and a transcription session with the Uptown Hall Gang, the small jazz group within the band.

Dinah Shore in France, 1944.

Dinah Shore in France, 1944.

On September 15th, Dinah hooked up with the band for a live concert at a B-17 base in Bury St. Edmunds, which Glenn missed, due to severe headaches and sinus trouble. Likely this is why Glenn looks tired and drawn in the photos taken at the Abbey Road studio the very next day. Back in 1938, then-unknown Dinah auditioned for the fledgling Miller band and was not hired. Now both superstars, there apparently were difficulties between the lady and Glenn over the interpretation of her songs on this record date.

Glenn & Dinah at HMV.

Glenn & Dinah at HMV.

In spite of any problems, four superb selections were in the can by the end of the four-hour session. Dinah sings beautifully on STAR DUST and ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU, sympathetically arranged by Ralph Wilkinson and Norman Leyden respectively, cushioning her voice with a myriad of strings. Both Dinah and Glenn had recorded STAR DUST for RCA pre-war and Wilkinson’s chart was a popular feature with the AAF Band, also recorded on their first V-Disc date. So the tune was a obvious choice.

Dinah with husband George Montgomery, who had appeared with Glenn in ORCHESTRA WIVES

Dinah with husband George Montgomery, who had appeared with Glenn in ORCHESTRA WIVES.

ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU was an anomaly. Never before performed by either star, the song was a 1934 hit by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, from the Joan Crawford film, Sadie McKee. It would later be featured raucously (by Debbie Reynolds) in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain. Sung slowly and sensuously by Miss Shore, it became a perfect 1944 wartime ballad of longing.

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Miller then pulled two band features from the book to complete the date. I’VE GOT A HEART FILLED WITH LOVE, written by Joseph Meyer and Al Jacobs, was likely a product of Glenn’s Mutual Music publishing arm. Meyer had written the lyrics for PEEKABOO TO YOU and Jacobs the music for WHEN THE ROSES BLOOM AGAIN, two Miller Bluebird discs. The wartime band played the tune often in the US and UK and a radio performance would turn up on V-Disc in 1945. Both Johnny Desmond and Tex Beneke with the postwar Miller band would wax the tune in later years. It’s a snappy performance of a good song, but it never became a hit outside of the Miller family.

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FAREWELL BLUES makes for a fitting conclusion to the session. This 1923 New Orleans Rhythm Kings jazz standard had been a killer-diller for Glenn’s civilian band. In this ballad treatment by Jerry Gray, it was often heard as the “blue” tune on the band’s “Something Old/New/Borrowed/Blue” radio medleys. It was occasionally extracted and played on its own, as was done here.

This session was undertaken with the best intentions. All proceeds from sales of the records were to be donated to American and British Army Charities and War Relief organizations. The Army, USO and RCA/HMV had to provide clearances for the discs to be issued. Though the British music press announced a December 1944 release for the 78s, nothing was forthcoming and the records were never issued.

gm dinah aaf

Test pressings were made and copied through the Miller collecting fraternity. I remember Glenn’s friend George T. Simon playing one of them on a New York radio station in 1974. In the 1990s, all four sides were finally released on a Conifer CD set in the UK, prepared by Alan Dell, a Miller fan and broadcaster. There was much press hoopla over the issuance of these “lost” recordings. The clean transfers from test pressings allowed the AEF band to be heard in high fidelity, the best sound quality of any of their UK recordings.

gm dinah mag

Glenn and the band would continue broadcasting and recording transcriptions by the barrelful until his ill-fated trip to Paris on December 15th and the band would continue touring France and Germany until the war ended.

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Glenn Miller’s contribution to American culture can never be measured and even today, continues to draw discerning fans worldwide. I hope these blog entries add a bit of information to those seeking knowledge and background on his superb musical accomplishments.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery