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

 

waller stormy-weather-3

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.

waller vdisc

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.

wallerstooo

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.

waller aintwaller moppin

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?

fats-waller

American Patrol

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Steve Lipkins, Billy May (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Skip Martin, Wilbur Schwartz, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, George Williams (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood, CA – April 2, 1942, 8:00 AM-12:30 PM

072230-1      American Patrol (JG arr)      Victor 27873-A

072231-1      Soldier, Let Me Read Your Letter (RE & M vcl, BM arr)    Victor 27873-B

072232-1      Sleep Song (RE & M vcl, GW arr)     Victor 27879-B

072233-1      Sweet Eloise (RE & M vcl, JG arr)    Victor 27879-A

Glenn Miller and his Orchestra arrived in Los Angeles on March 17th, after a fairly rapid trip across the country. After a few days getting acclimated, they reported to the 20th Century Fox studios to begin work on their second feature film, originally titled ORCHESTRA WIFE.

Before getting too heavily involved in the filmmaking process, Victor pulled them into a Hollywood recording studio for an early-morning session. As before, most of the tunes had a wartime connection, starting with AMERICAN PATROL.

gm american

Written in 1885 by F. W Meacham, the composition was one of his many patriotic marches that became a popular sensation. The original music worked in other martial airs, including COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, YANKEE DOODLE and THREE CHEERS FOR THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE and Jerry Gray’s brilliant arrangement included these as well, at least initially. The earliest Miller broadcast version from March 27th ran nearly five minutes and included several sequences that were cut to trim the chart to 78 length, as was done with the original longer rendition of IN THE MOOD. Too bad RCA didn’t spring for a 12-inch release that would have preserved the whole thing!

gm amer 8patrol

Listening to a turn-of-the century performance by Sousa’s Band, it’s surprising to hear just how much of the original piece was adapted by Jerry Gray, down to the gradual fade out toward the end which is shattered by a powerful fortissimo coda.

Original to Glenn’s version are the superbly timed drum breaks by Moe Purtill and Billy May’s wild trumpet.

Billy May, Moe Purtill & Glenn

Billy May, Moe Purtill & Glenn

It’s fortunate that this great instrumental was taken down at Victor’s Hollywood studio, which afforded Glenn the finest technical recording quality that RCA ever gave him. The entire band sparkles and we can hear clearly such details as the sax riffs behind Billy’s solo and the kicking rhythm section.

gm soldier-let-me-read-your-letter-victor-78

The remainder of the date produced three Eberle-Modernaires ballads and here too, we can appreciate the depth and richness of sound that the band could produce. Case in point is the dynamic introduction to Billy May’s arrangement of SOLDIER, LET ME READ YOUR LETTER, with even Bobby Hackett’s quiet guitar strumming audible.   It was written by two actual soldiers, Private Pat Fallon and Private Tim Pasma, with help from pro songwriter Sid Lippman (of I’M THRILLED and DEAR ARABELLA fame). Glenn’s Mutual Music firm published the song.

gm soliderl

Presumably the soldier-songwriters were familiar with the depressing situation described in their number, as a lonely G.I. begs to read his comrade’s correspondence. He “hasn’t got a sweetheart” and has “left no one behind.” Female listeners were likely persuaded to feel guilty about the isolated guys overseas. Girls, start writing those V-Mail letters! They’re doing the fighting, so you do the writing!

gm solider letter

Another Mutual Music product, SLEEP SONG is a clever twist on the morning bugle call, REVEILLE. It’s a more serious variation of Irving Berlin’s OH, HOW I HATE TO GET UP IN THE MORNING and was composed by middling scribes Don Reid (whose biggest hit was REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR) and Henry Tobias (who would much later create Bette Davis’ creepy I’VE WRITTEN A LETTER TO DADDY for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?).

gm sleep

George Williams, a new addition to the arranging team, penned the fine chart. Glenn hired Williams from the Sonny Dunham band to help with the additional writing chores that the new film would require. Nicknamed “the Fox,” George would go on to a successful career with Gene Krupa, Ray Anthony and Jackie Gleason.

gm sweet el copy

The final selection, SWEET ELOISE, is an attractive melody by fellow trombonist-bandleader Russ Morgan, who started as a fine jazz musician and arranger and made a fortune playing corny, muted wah-wah solos with his equally saccharine band. Russ did manage to write (or co-write) the occasional quality song, like SOMEBODY ELSE IS TAKING MY PLACE. Popular lyricist Mack David handled the words.

gm elosice

Bobby Hackett finally gets another chance to shine, with a lovely cornet obbligato in the first chorus. Ray Eberle and the Modernaires lightly toss the lyrics back and forth, then Hackett returns to lead the saxes through a sinuous instrumental passage, which is the record’s highlight. Where have you been hiding, Bobby?

Aside from their radio broadcasts, this record date would be the last fans would hear from the Miller band until they completed their movie in late May. Happily, the movie would turn out to be one of the best big band films of the era. Details to come!

gm sheet music sleep

Glenn’s photo on sheet music was a guarantee of big sales.