1. That's A Plenty
2. After You've Gone
3. Alexander's Ragtime Band
4. Ain't Misbehavin' (I'm Savin' My Love For You)
5. Jazz Me Blues
6. Oh, Lady Be Good
1. Limehouse Blues
2. Honeysuckle Rose
3. Darktown Strutters' Ball
4. Georgia On My Mind
5. Sweet Sue, Just You
6. American Patrol
The idea of a "battle of the bands" is one that probably goes almost as far back as the origin of the popular orchestra. Certainly in the late nineteenth century there were rival street bands in many of the southern states whose relative merits were judged by their enthusiastic sup-porters in open-air musical galas. Back in the 1930s the so-called swing era brought a wave of special events at which leading groups would be paired off at the Savoy or some other famous ballroom.
Today, with the technological advantages of tape recording, hi-fi and stereo, the old gimmick has taken on a new twist. In the present meeting between Mr. New Orleans Jazz (better known as Pete Fountain) and Mr. Honky Tonk (alias Dudley "Big Tiny" Little) the occasion is a particularly important one for anyone equipped with a first-class hi-fi rig (especially if he happens to have stereo); and the musical effect is one of amalgamation rather than opposition.
The backgrounds of the protagonists in this musical merger have a great deal in common. Both Pete Fountain and Tiny Little were born in the summer of 1930, a few weeks apart. Both were the sons of well known musicians - Tiny's father was a famous orchestra leader for many years (he is now more or less retired but still books polka band gigs around Minnesota) - while Pete's father played drums and violin with various jazz groups around Biloxi, Miss. Most important, of course, is the bond between Pete and Tiny as alumni of the Lawrence Welk organization, in which they worked together for a couple of years and were jointly featured on the Welk television series.
Pete became a leader in the early 1950s, disbanding to join Welk in 1957 and resuming his independent career in the spring of 1959. Tiny, who had played piano from the age of five, organized his first trio while in his teens. Anative of Worthington, Minn., he played dance dates throughout the middle West and later worked as a sideman with the orchestras of Cliff Kyes, Jimmie Thomas and, not surprisingly, Tiny Little Sr. After joining the Air Force in 1950 he was based in Japan and formed a jazz combo of local citizens.
A seldom-publicized aspect of Tiny's career is the jazz venture he undertook not long after his discharge from the Air Force in 1954. For a while he worked at the Strollers Club in Long Beach, Cal., as one-third of a swinging trio whose other members were the distinguished jazz bassist Leroy Vinnegar and guitarist Irving Ashby (formerly of the King Cole Trio). After working solo for a while in cocktail lounges, Tiny was discovered by Welk, joining him in the summer of 1955 and remaining just four years.
Tiny describes himself as a "left-handed piano player," by which he means that he keeps the bass notes moving, much in the manner of his earliest keyboard idol, the late and immortal Thomas "Fats" Waller. (For similar reasons his current favorites include Erroll Garner at the top of the list.)
Pete Fountain names as his favorite clarinetists the late Irving Fazola (a New Orleans product like Pete himself ) and another Crescent City veteran, Eddie Miller of the old Bob Crosby band. Nevertheless, listeners who have followed Pete's work in recent years discern a strong Benny Goodman influence.
Of the Little-Fountain cooperation on these sides, Tiny says: "This was something we'd had at the back of our minds for a long time; we were happy when Coral arranged for us to join forces. Pete is just a natural player and it's a stimulating experience to work with him."
Listeners who hear the stereo version will find Tiny on the right channel with his men - including the one-time Benny Goodman guitarist, Allan Reuss, playing banjo; Buddy Hayes on tuba, Morty Corb on string bass and Jack Sperling on drums, plus Jack Imel offering such miscellaneous percussion sounds as washboard, spoons, woodblocks and anything else handy. On the left hand channel is Pete with his clarinet and his own rhythm section, including Merle Koch on piano, Lowell Miller on bass and Paul Edwards on drums. Also on the date was Lou Singer (alternating with Elmer Schmidt) on xylophone and vibraphone.
The session opens with a little walking music a la Jackie Gleason as the boys tear into That's A Plenty, a Dixieland standard of the mid-1920s. Then time marches back for After You've Gone, written during World War I and handled here just as it has almost always been done by jazzmen, with the first chorus slow and the second in double-time. Next, Tiny takes the lead chorus, followed bysome of Pete's must fluent ad-libbing, on the rousing treatment of Irving Berlin's first hit, Alexander's Ragtime Band, now rounding out its first half century. Ain't Misbehavin' moves the clock ahead a little to 1929, when this song became one of Fats Waller's first major hits. Next comes Jazz Me Blues, a song recorded by scores of Dixie-land combos since Bix Beiderbecke immortalized it more than three decades ago. A fast tempo treatment of Gershwin's Lady Be Good offers a touch of Allen Reuss' banjo chords along with solos by Tiny and Pete.
The second side opens uproariously with a reckless investigation of Limehouse Blues, another hit of the early 1920s, complete with Oriental effects, whistles, rattles and Tiny's "doctored" piano all contributing to an atmosphere that's as corny as a carousel and just as much fun. Stereo listeners will get a special kick out of the "ping-pong" effect created by the two drummers in the introduction to Fats Waller's Honeysuckle Rose, which features Merle Koch, Pete's pianist, as well as Tiny. The familiar "riff" played during the last chorus is taken from the famous Fletcher Henderson arrangement of this tune, popularized around 1939 by the Benny Goodman band.
After Darktown Strutters Ball, which has some of the most typically exuberant Little piano work of the entire album, the mood changes for a relaxed interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael's 30-year-old classic Georgia On My Mind. Notice how effectively the piano answers each clarinet statement of the melody in the opening chorus. The tuba rounds out the overall sound in an effective arrangement. (Whatever planned music can be heard on this session is credited to Larry Fotine, the arranger who has collaborated with Tiny on a number of ragtime pieces.) The second chorus of Sweet Sue is a real panic, especially for stereo listeners - sheer uninhibited bedlam, complete with rollicking keyboard, xylophone, tuba and everything else but (or possibly even including) the kitchen sink. This tune dates back to 1928, which makes it somewhat younger than the concluding item, American Patrol. Here we have another example of how a time-honored melody with no direct jazz associations can be transformed with-out any trouble at all into a vehicle for this kind of free-for-all improvisation.
Very recently Pete Fountain won the Down Beat International Jazz Critics' poll as new star of the year on clarinet for 1960. Although the atmosphere on these sides is hardly intended to appeal to purists or snobs (for whom rowdy, no-holds-barred music merely produces a "we-are-not-amused" lifted eyebrow), it's a cinch that this meeting in modern sound between the critics' new favorite and the public's favorite honky-tonk expert will win many new fans for both.
- LEONARD FEATHER