Riverwalk Jazz favorites, Vernel Bagneris, Topsy Chapman and Shelly Berg join The Jim Cullum Jazz Band in celebrating 20 years on public radio with a series of broadcasts from Pearl Stable, a century-old limestone horse stable transformed into a state-of-the-art theater at San Antonio’s historic Pearl Brewery.
In this encore presentation, we delve into the rich legacy of three jazz ‘superheroes’ whose work has inspired Jim and the Band through the years—Fats Waller, Hoagy Carmichael and the blues-driven melodies of W.C. Handy.
Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller was a prolific composer of popular tunes and cabaret and Broadway shows, as well as one of the great masters of the ‘Harlem Stride’ solo piano style pioneered by his teacher and mentor, James P. Johnson. Waller’s music is often heard in the present day in popular Broadway revues such as Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Waller composed solo piano masterpieces which are considered essential classics of the ‘Harlem Stride’ repertoire. Pianist Shelly Berg, dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, tackles the difficult “A Handful of Keys” and a blues solo, “Numb Fumblin’.” Broadway actor Vernel Bagneris gives a cabaret treatment to Waller’s show tunes “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” and “I’ve Got a Feelin’ I’m Fallin’.”
And Bagneris offers a window into Waller’s philosophy about composition, “I think the thing that makes a tune click is the melody. Give the public four bars of melody to dig their teeth into, and you have yourself what you call a killer-diller!”
In 1920s’ jazz, Frank Trumbauer emerged as one the first great masters of the saxophone. Later saxophone ‘greats’—such as Benny Carter, Don Redman and Lester Young—all greatly admired ‘Tram’s’ easy, airy and light upper-register sound, in no small measure produced because of his instrument of choice, the now-obsolete C-Melody saxophone.
Pitched in between the alto and tenor, the C-Melody characteristic sound is somewhere in between the two, especially when played in the upper register. On a specially-restored 1920 Conn model C-Melody sax, our resident saxophone virtuoso Ron Hockett, performs two classics from the Trumbauer repertoire inspired by the legendary Bix Beiderbecke—Hoagy Carmichael’s first hit song, “Star Dust” and Tram’s classic “For No Reason at All in C.”
Hockett says, “[Trumbauer] played in a very relaxed style, and tried to find the pretty notes. He didn’t use much vibrato, and when he did, it was not fast and wide, but slow and narrow. And he always stayed in the upper register of the horn to make use of the horn’s best range.”
Known as ‘The Father of the Blues,’ William Christopher Handy was born in Florence, Alabama in 1873. He made his living leading marching bands and dance orchestras—playing for both black and white audiences.
Handy could remember any song he heard and get it down in musical notation just about as fast as he heard it. Handy had the ability to expand on simple folk blues. He’d write new music around fragments of old melodies, add his own lyrics, and create his own complete compositions.
Jim Cullum says this about Handy’s composition “Loveless Love,” “We’ve performed ‘Careless Love’ before on our show but never ‘Loveless Love’ with W.C. Handy’s verse and lyric. I heard a tape with Handy’s granddaughter singing it this way, and I wanted to share it with you.”
We close the broadcast with two old songs that are particular favorites of bandleader Jim Cullum. New Orleans’ Topsy Chapman and Vernel Bagneris rock out on Irving Berlin’s 1911 classic “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” And Topsy Chapman steals the show with her slow blues rendition of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”
Photo credit for Home Page and Recent Radio Broadcast Page:
Riverwalk Jazz special guests from left Topsy Chapman, Vernel Bangeris and Shelly Berg. Photo by Jamie Karutz
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2012