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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G. I. Jive

Captain Glenn Miller (tb & director); Zeke Zarchy, Whitey Thomas, Bobby Nichols, Steve Steck, John Carisi, Jack Steele (tp); Jimmy Priddy, James Harwood, John Halliburton, Larry Hall, Nat Peck (tb); Addison Collins (Frhrn); Hank Freeman, Gabe Galinas, Fred Guerra (as); Jack Ferrier, Vinnie Carbone, Murray Wald, Peanuts Hucko, Lynn Allison (ts); Chuck Gentry, Mannie Thaler (bar); 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); Jerry Gray, Norman Leyden, Ralph Wilkinson, Bill Finegan (arr).

This is a composite personnel, from which the recording units were drawn.

 

V-Disc Session, RCA Victor Studios. New York, January 21, 1944

VP-563           Embraceable You (strings only) (RW arr)   V-Disc 183

VP-563           G.I. Jive (RMcK & CC vcl, JG arr)    V-Disc 183

VP-618           Moon Dreams (JD & CC vcl)            V-Disc 201

VP-655           Stealin’ Apples  (Fletcher Henderson arr)         V-Disc 223

 

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By the time of the third Glenn Miller AAF Band V-Disc recording session, the V-Disc program directors were making arrangements to acquire fresh material for their releases. In addition to reissuing older commercial records and producing their own sessions, they were now able to use performances from CBS and NBC radio broadcasts and rehearsals. This opened a vast library of material to choose from, and bands like Glenn’s did not need to record specifically for V-Disc, as their regular broadcasts provided quality music to select from. After this January date, a dozen later Miller V-Discs came from his radio shows, specifically the weekly I Sustain the Wings NBC series.

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Two standards and two new songs make up the program. The strings have it all to themselves for the Gershwins’ lovely EMBRACEABLE YOU, with concertmaster George Ockner’s fiddle leading the way.   Fourteen years earlier, Glenn was in the pit band of Girl Crazy, the Broadway musical in which the song was introduced. Perhaps he was thinking of how far he had come when recording this version!

Bobby Nichols’ trumpet starts off G. I. JIVE, an amiable showcase for Ray McKinley’s singing, with able assistance from the Crew Chiefs. Jerry Gray’s swinging chart is a winner, with an especially delightful windup. Johnny Mercer wrote both words and music and was the first to record it for his fledgling Capitol Records at their first session after the recording ban, held on October 15, 1943. It was a much-needed hit for the new label.

Martha Tilton with Benny Goodman, 1938

Martha Tilton with Benny Goodman, 1938

Mercer also lyricized MOON DREAMS, a melody by Glenn’s old friend and pianist, Chummy MacGregor. This song had also debuted on Capitol, at the label’s very first session – April 6, 1942, sung by Martha Tilton. In fact, it has the distinction of being Capitol master #1. Capitol didn’t have much time to get going before the recording ban struck on August 1; they had waxed barely 80 masters. Despite that tiny backlog, the Tilton rendition of MOON DREAMS languished in the vault until late in the summer of 1943. Perhaps Mercer wasn’t pleased with it. Martha’s vocal is fine, but the band accompaniment is rather anemic.

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Not so for the Miller arrangement! Running just over five minutes, this “symphonic” chart is reminiscent of Paul Whiteman’s lavish 12-inch recordings of pop songs from the late 1920s. It’s a lovely, moody performance that shows off the oddly impressionistic melody and lyrics. Johnny Desmond and the Crew Chiefs deliver a hushed vocal. (For some reason, Desmond is credited as “Johann Desmond” on the label. A mistake or an in-joke of some kind?)

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After a batch of AAF performances, the song quickly disappeared, but eventually had a surprising revival. Perhaps Miller French hornist Addison “Junior” Collins brought it to his attention, for in 1948, Miles Davis added the song to the repertoire of his “Birth of the Cool” band, in a shimmering Gil Evans arrangement. Collins played with the group during their September 1948 gig at the Royal Roost, where two airchecks of MOON DREAMS were preserved.   It was eventually recorded at the group’s last Capitol session, in March 1950. Due to this Miles connection, Herbie Mann, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Flora Purim and Meredith D’Ambrosio did other jazz versions in the following years.

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Pianist Mel Powell “borrowed” the classic Fletcher Henderson arrangement of STEALIN’ APPLES from Benny Goodman, his former boss. Glenn apparently liked it a lot, since the AAF band performed it constantly. Because the first two notes are seemingly missing here, I used to think that this performance was badly dubbed onto the V-Disc. Listening to other Miller performances, I soon found that all of them clipped the introduction, perhaps to provide a more arresting kickoff. Powell and clarinetist Peanuts Hucko take exuberant solos, backed by Ray McKinley’s lightly dancing drums.

These selections were eventually split-coupled – EMBRACEABLE YOU and G.I. JIVE, on one side of V-Disc 183, were backed by two Duke Ellington numbers. MOON DREAMS was coupled with Glenn’s 1942 record of SLEEPY TOWN TRAIN on V-Disc 201 and STEALIN’ APPLES was paired with two other AAF radio performances on V-Disc 223.

That was it for the AAF Band’s “original” V-Discs. The dozen or so later Miller releases on the label were all drawn from broadcast transcriptions, keeping the orchestra’s name and sound alive into 1949, when the V-Disc program was ended. It wasn’t until 1955 that RCA belatedly produced a lavish 5-LP set showcasing their best performances, introducing the ensemble to a general audience. We’ll examine one more Glenn Miller AAF record session next time.

Glenn and the band in England, 1944.

Glenn and the band in England, 1944.

 

 

Goin’ Home

Captain Glenn Miller (tb & director); Zeke Zarchy, Whitey Thomas, Bobby Nichols, Steve Steck, John Carisi, Jack Steele (tp); Jimmy Priddy, James Harwood, John Halliburton, Larry Hall, Nat Peck (tb); Addison Collins (Frhrn); Hank Freeman, Gabe Galinas, Fred Guerra (as); Jack Ferrier, Vinnie Carbone, Murray Wald, Peanuts Hucko, Lynn Allison (ts); Chuck Gentry, Mannie Thaler (bar); 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); Jerry Gray, Norman Leyden, Ralph Wilkinson, Bill Finegan (arr).

This is a composite personnel, from which the recording units were drawn.

 

V-Disc Session, RCA Victor Studios. New York, December 10, 1943

VP-415           The Squadron Song (JD & Band, vcl, JG arr)          V-Disc 144

VP-415           Tail End Charlie (BF arr)       V-Disc 144

VP-416           Medley: Goin’ Home/Honeysuckle Rose (MP arr)/My Blue Heaven   V-Disc 123

VP-1189         Holiday for Strings (Part 1)  (JG arr)                      V-Disc Unissued Test

VP-1190         Holiday for Strings (Part 2)   (JG arr)                       V-Disc Unissued Test

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The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band’s second V-Disc recording session was held six weeks after the first and embraced a similarly eclectic range of material. THE SQUADRON SONG, written by a trio of soldiers, was the first of many gung-ho patriotic numbers the band did, saluting various branches of the military. THERE ARE YANKS, WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE INFANTRY, WITH MY HEAD IN THE CLOUDS and THE ARMY AIR CORPS SONG would soon follow, all with the full band “glee club” augmented by Johnny Desmond and the Crew Chiefs vocal group. It’s a stimulating performance, taken in multiple tempos from ballad to swing to march, with the string section nicely spotted. Their witty little allusion to REVEILLE (“You’ve gotta get up this morning”) is a fun touch.

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Bill Finegan’s TAIL-END CHARLIE (originally titled TROOP MOVEMENT) was likely written for the civilian band, but never played by them. Finegan gave the chart (and other unused Miller items) to Horace Heidt’s band, which performed it on the air toward the end of 1942. Their version is quite credible, but Glenn’s many AAF renditions have greater sparkle. This V-Disc interpretation cuts about a minute from the full chart, so it and THE SQUADRON SONG could both fit onto one side of the record. By the way, the title referred to the tail gunners of fighter planes.

Chuck Gentry (on baritone) and Vince Carbone (on tenor) get the solo spots, but both are more effective and heard at greater length on live performances, such as the one originally included on the RCA AAF LP set, which is also taken at a snappier tempo than the V-Disc.

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Presumably to take advantage of the longer playing time of a 12-inch disc, next up was a “Miller Medley,” or at least ¾ of one! The AAF Band continued Glenn’s medley tradition of “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” which had been a weekly feature of the civilian Chesterfield radio shows. The AAF medleys took on a more elaborate shape and often ran 8 or 9 minutes in length, with varying tempos for the different selections.

This V-Disc of GOIN’ HOME/HONEYSUCKLE ROSE/MY BLUE HEAVEN hints at the range these medleys could cover, in this case, from Antonin Dvorak to Fats Waller! The missing “new” tune from this particular medley was PAPER DOLL, likely not recorded since it might not have been fresh by the time the record was circulated. The highlight here is Mel Powell’s imaginative piano spot on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE. Too bad it isn’t longer.

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The last two session recordings were of David Rose’s popular HOLIDAY FOR STRINGS, PARTS 1 & 2, in a blockbuster, pull-all-stops arrangement by Jerry Gray. Of course, the strings were well featured, as was the full dynamic power of the band playing both sweet and bluesy. This version is taken slower than later live versions, with a sudden pause halfway through to accommodate the break between the two parts. For some reason, this recording was never issued, though a live version from June 3, 1944 was later issued on one side of V-Disc 421. Test pressings do exist, as pictured here.

HOLIDAY became one of the AAF band’s top numbers, featured on many broadcasts, often as the closing performance. What, after all, could follow it?

All the recordings from the first AAF V-Disc session were issued back-to-back on V-Discs 65 and 91. This session’s output was split – the flip side of V-Disc 123 was a dub of IN THE MOOD by the civilian band and V-Disc 144 had two medley excerpts from a December 1943 radio program. The product of the next session would be similarly split.

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