|Several years ago, when we were with the Monterey Bay Classic
Jass Band (and Classic Jass), Fay & I began to perform a series of piano/vocal duos that gave the band a lip rest at festivals (or maybe
just comic relief). We discovered in each other an appreciation for seldom-heard tunes of the greats, and other esoterica, and a mutual
craving for Fats.
Because our homes are about three hours distant, we often introduced these tunes to our repertoire in front of a live festival audience, with only a phone call as preparation. We did "The Real American Folk Song is a Rag" at the Pismo Beach Festival without so much as a run-thru, made it thru the first part, more or less, got to the ending and panicked. Pretty frightening stuff, considering that a lot of the tunes were difficult recital-type material-but we generally muddled through, although often I think it was enthusiasm rather than polish that saved the day. That and a pretty hefty phone bill. So, two years later, after no musical contact in the interim, we thought, "why not repeat the trauma and do a recording? Neither of us has enough stress in our lives, so let's go into the studio and see what happens". Once again the phone lines blazed.
There is an abundance of Fats Waller material on this recording. Fay had several charts of obscure Waller tunes given to her by Barbara Sutton Curtis, and since neither of us had ever heard a recording of them to use as a benchmark, we proceeded to do them in our own way. Even though they are unfamiliar tunes, they have the unmistakable Fats riffs—and we had fun with them: "A Sad Sapsucker Am I", "Come and Get It", "That's All", and "Oh Baby, Sweet Baby". Ed Kirkeby (biographer and last manager of Fats) is credited with the lyrics on all these tunes, and for my taste they are a bit stiffer than the Andy Razaf lyrics of earlier hits—makes you appreciate why Fats messed around so much—how do you keep a straight face while singing "why do we break and tear our hearts out?" "Up Jumped You with Love", also a Kirkeby collaboration has an intimidating bridge that changes keys too many times to count. "Cash for Your Trash" fell into obscurity after Fats' 1941 patriotic pop release for scrap drives, but it was revived in the musical Ain't Misbehavin'—a show stopper—and seems appropriate today as a prod to recycle. Our final Fats tune was derived partially from a bawdy bordello song called "The Boy in the Boat", and Fats first performed it without lyrics as "The Boston Blues". The final version, a collaboration with Clarence Williams, was an attempt to clean up the lyrics for publication-and undoubtedly with tongue firmly in cheek they called it "Squeeze Me".
We included several show tunes in this recording. "I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me" a Clarence Gaskill/Jimmy McHugh composition written in 1926, was used in the revue Gay Paree in 1927. I have always been amused by the second sentence in the lyrics—try saying that after a few beers! And speaking of tongue numbing lyrics, how about "Let's Do It", introduced in Paris by Irene Bordoni and Arthur Nargetson in 1928. "The Real American Folk Song is a Rag" written in 1917 was an early George and Ira effort—but not used in a show until Be Yourself in 1924. It strikes me as the sort of challenging piece that was probably performed in parlor recitals.
I don't know much about "Sweet Man" except that is was performed in musical revues and clubs by many of the pop and jazz vocalists of the 20's. Ethel Waters did a wonderful recording of it with her Plantation Orchestra from the Plantation Club Review in 1925. "Everybody Step", our foray into Tin Pan Alley, appeared in Irving Berlin and Sam Harris' first Music Box Review in 1921. I first discovered this tune in a pile of piano sheet music given to me by my Grandmother before she died. Granny used to insist that this tune should be played in a choppy, march-like cadence—and that's exactly how she used to play it for barn dances back in the 20's.
Fay performs two piano solos in this recording, and some might be surprised that neither are stride or ragtime, as she is well known for these styles. We both felt that the piano/vocal selections in this recording are generally a group of novelty numbers, and so she chose solos that fit this mode as well. Eubie Blake's "Baltimore Todelo" was written sometime after he left the Goldfield Theater in Baltimore in 1907. It has a wonderful barrelhouse feeling, and we're told the Todelo was a lively dance (I sure would like to see someone do it). "Baby's Birthday Party" (1930) seems representative of the piano novelty tunes of the time—probably used to show off virtuosity in piano recitals (my Granny would have been daunted by the complexity). Fay adds some boogie (not in the original) and makes it her own tour de force.
Studio work completely dumbfounds both of us, and so we we invite you to join our fantasy—so leave your parasol at the door, grab a sarsaparilla—Granny is making fudge in the kitchen—settle on the settee, and smell the lilac gently wafting in our parlor window...
Sue Kroninger April 1992