Welcome to From Basin St. to Birdland

by mikeconklinmusic


Fats Waller

As promised, it’s time to listen to one of the most important figures in the history of jazz (yet sadly, he is unfortunately better known to the public for his comedic charm rather than his musical virtuosity!).

From yesterday’s post, we discovered that Waller was not only a pianist of startling technique, but was a prolific composer as well. One of his most famous works, a collaboration with Andy Razaf, was a musical entitled (Connie’s) Hot Chocolates in 1929 (which ultimately featured Louis Armstrong!) The show proved to be such a success that it moved onto Broadway, opening at the Hudson Theatre on June 20, 1929, and ran for over two hundred performances.

Over the next two days, I’d like to focus on two tunes from the show: Ain’t Misbehavin and (What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue.

Ain’t Misbehavin’

(Recorded: Hollywood January 23, 1943)

Original key: C Major

Form: AABA (popular song form); some might argue that it’s an AABC form, which is certainly acceptable.

Tonal center: Primarily major with the exception of the brief minor passage in the B section.

Here’s the cast of characters:

Fats Waller (piano/vocals), Benny Carter (trumpet), Alton ‘Slim’ Moore (trombone), Gene Porter (clarinet/tenor sax), Irving Ashby (guitar), Slam Stewart (bass), Zutty Singleton (drums).

Here’s the tune:

Fats begins the tune with a four bar introduction before entering with the main theme — all in the Harlem  stride style (notice the striding left hand — almost providing a boom-chick-boom-chick effect). Meanwhile, Zutty is tastefully accompanying him with brushes in the background. Slam shortly joins to fill out the rhythm section.

Fats plays through the 16 bars of the A section — mostly keeping with the melody while adding some ornamentation in the right hand.

In the B section (0:48), which is traditionally a contrasting section that bridges the first A sections to the final A section (or what some may label a C section), Fats strays from the melody — he uses descending, cascading runs. The harmony, though, should be fairly apparent (for the more advanced listener) under his melodic elaborations.

After the bridge, Fats takes some liberties with the melody of the final A section. As we approach the final bars, you’ll notice a climax that will lead to the entire band accompanying Fats as he sings for the second chorus!

The second chorus, as Fats sings, has a slightly different texture; initially Slim Moore provides an obbligato line under Fats’s vocal line, while Irving Ashby establishes the chord sequence with his guitar. All the while, the rest of the rhythm section supports underneath. After the first two A sections (16 bars), they enter the B section…

Clarinetist Gene Porter takes the obbligato role while Fats sings through the 8 bars beginning with, “like Jack Horner…”

After the bridge, comes the final A section. Once again Slim plays his trombone under Fats’s vocal line. Keep in mind, the rhythm section is accompanying them throughout.

Then, they kick it up a notch! Zutty Singleton takes a solo with Fats comping behind him. There are essentially moving through the first two A sections (yes, a THIRD chorus!) Then, they have somewhat of a conversation before the entire band joins the fun!

You’ll notice at (3:22) they play in a collective improvisation format, where each instrument improvises at the same time. This is over the B section (you might try singing “Like Jack Horner, in ther corner…” to catch what the band is doing. In the final bar of the B section, they break it down! The tempo slows (uses a ritardando)  just in time to bring Fats to the final A section, “I don’t stay out late, don’t care to go. I’m home about eight, just me and my radio. Ain’t misbehavin’, I’m savin’ all my love for you!”

That’s a wrap, folks!

P.S. Check out the Jazz and Theory page for a harmonic analysis of the tune!