Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A handful of keys and the joint was jumping. Time to take five as Fats Waller meets Dave Brubeck for a sublime evening of jamming and jiving.
It’s an interesting hypothesis – what would have transpired had Thomas Fats Waller and Dave Brubeck ever had a session together? No doubt the whisky would have flowed but you can bet that jazz sounding like it had been made in heaven would have resulted.
Well, that’s Richard Michael’s view and he should know, having been a fan of both for more years than he cares to admit. And in an informative and entertaining hour that was part discussion, part recital, his juxtaposing of a series of Brubeck and Waller numbers made for very interesting listening.
Starting with that Fats’ classic, Lulu’s Back In Town, we found the piece shifting from that distinctive Waller style to that redolent of Brubeck. And back again. Imitating either must be a real challenge given that both Brubeck and Waller had huge hands, allowing them to cover much more than the octave and a note or two most mortals can reach. Fats’ hands were so large that he actually covered a twelfth (an octave and a half to you and me), pretty useful for any stride pianist. And Brubeck wasn’t far behind him.
Waller’s Carolina Shout was followed by a pair of Brubeck numbers, In Your Own Way and The Duke (the latter with a chord structure that’s almost impossible to predict, even if you know the piece well) which established the musical footprint of both jazz masters. Michael then followed this up with a series of pairings, one tune from each of Waller and Brubeck, including Viper’s Drag/Sixth Sense and Jitterbug Waltz/It’s A Rag Waltz allowing us to appreciate the very different styles that each artist composed and played.
Brubeck was a jazz maverick, using time signatures such as 5/4, 7/4 and even 11/4 that, whilst meat and drink to young jazz artists of the 21st century, were almost completely alien to his peers. But whilst Brubeck threw out most parts of the jazz rule book (if that’s not an oxymoron), Waller found himself stuck for most of his short life with the standard thirty-two bar format. Well, it was what his fans wanted and his fans paid the wages that allowed him to live the decadent style that, sadly, caught up with him far too quickly.
Michael is probably one of Scotland’s finest jazz pianists. And his interpretation and delivery of Waller’s and Brubeck’s material is first rate, as is his ability to communicate complicated jazz concepts in an understandable manner. But Waller was a gifted singer and the one thing missing from an otherwise memorable evening was the distinctive voice that accompanied many of his greatest pieces.
It’s a minor gripe as Waller wrote enough instrumental pieces to fill several evenings and this session could so easily have turned into one of those late night jamming sessions for which jazz folk are renowned. Pity it didn’t.