Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ed Kirkeby's first meeting with Fats Waller - 75 years ago

Ed Kirkeby's first meeting with Fats Waller - 75 years ago ( English) Ed Kirkeby's eerste ontmoeting met Fats Waller - 75 jaar geleden ( Nederlands) Ed Kirkeby in the Roaring Twenties ( English) Ed Kirkeby in de jaren twintig ( Nederlands)

Is that your last glass? No, it's my first bottle!
Hans Koert

On Monday the 24th of June, 1935, now 75 years ago, Ed Kirkeby ( misspelled on the layers as Mr. Kikeby ) first met Fats Waller at a recording session for Victor. He was, as A & R man for Victor, responsable for that recording session, in which Fats Waller and his Rhythm recorded almost a dozen tunes like Dinah - Take It Easy - You're The Picture - My Very Good Friend the Milkman - Blue Because of You - There's Going To Be the Devil To Pay - Twelfth Street Rag - There'll Be Some Changes Made - Somebody Stole My Gal and
Sweet Sue, Just You. Ed Kirkeby ( 1891-1978)

Ed Kirkeby was active in the music scene since 1916 up to the year before he passed away (1977) as manager from bands like the California Ramblers ( 1920s) - from the ARC-Brunswick Studio bands ( early 1930s) - The Pickens Sisters ( in the 1930s) - Thomas Fats Waller ( 1938 - 1943) up to Pat Flowers ( in the 1970s). He worked for Columbia, Victor ( later RCA-Victor) and NBC, but for me he is also the voice behind dozens of well known dance band tunes from the 1920s. More about that in a later blog. Most people will remember Ed Kirkeby as the manager of Fats Waller.

Fats Waller and Ed Kirkeby ( in 1941) ( photo courtesy: Institute of Jazz Studies Rutgers University Libraries )

Camden is located at the bank of the Delaware river, where Victor (later RCA-Victor) had founded in 1901 its recording studios. One of these studios was the Trinity Church where Fats made his organ records. Now these ancient studios are rebuild into new apartements and Studio #2 now contains the Camden City Board of Education. The band, entitled the Rhythm, directed by Thomas Fats Waller leader, vocalist and piano player, featured Herman Autrey, Rudy Powell, James Smith, Charles Turner and Arnold Boling. They were invited at 10.00 a.m. on the morning of the 24th of June, 1935 - a Monday - to gather in the Studio #2 of Camden NJ for a recording session. There had been a lot of internal arguments in the band, due to the fact that Fats didn't pay the musicians in time - a great start for Ed. Ed Kirkeby was asked, as an A & R man for Victor, to direct this Fats Waller recording.
Phil Ponce, Fats' manager, was suffering from failing health and felt that he couldn't handle it no longer and asked Wallace "Ed" Kirkeby to support him.
Not a enviable job in my opinion.

The film Hooray For Love was released in the summer of 1935 and featured Fats in a small role as a mover.

Fats came in, almost one hour too late. One of the stories told about Ed's first meetings with Fats, was, that Ed was sitting in the control room. He saw a half empty bottle of gin on the table and asked Fats through the intercom: Is that your last drink? No, Fats replied, it's my first bottle!" ( source: Fats Waller by Maurice Waller). Early 1938 Ed Kirkeby became Fats' manager up to Waller's death in December 1943.

There are no moving images from Ed Kirkeby, as far as I know, but Fats Waller played a small role in the Hollywood film Hooray For Love. In June 1935 the film was previewed in Hollywood's Hillstreet Theater and the official premiere was a month later. In the 72 minutes film Fats plays the role of a removal man evicting a young girl ( Jeni Le Gon) from her apartment. All her furnitures and possessions are on the sidewalk, including her piano. When Fats sees the piano, he jumps behind the keyboard and sings, together with the "mayor" of the city ( Bill Bojangles Robinson) the song I'm Living in a Great Big Way.

Bill Bojangles Robinson (as the mayor) and Fats Waller ( as a mover) in the film Hooray For Love. (1935)

Thirty years ago I had the sound track of this film on LP and when I listened to it I wondered if the speed of the film was okay in some parts. Later I saw the film myself and learned that part was sung by three kids. Isn't it strange that the piano starts playing before Fats hits the keys? Well, enjoy Fats with tap dancer Bill Bojangles Robinson in a vocal duet of I'm Living In a Great Big Way. The fragment starts with a tap-dance duet by Bill and Jeni Le Gon.

During the Victor recording session, which contained almost a dozen tunes, Ed had his first arguments with Fats, who refused to record the tune the 12th Street Rag.

Fats band on tour. Ed Kirkeby is far left (1940) (photo courtesy: Institute of Jazz Studies Rutgers University Libraries )
This Twelfth Street Rag was composed twenty years earlier by Euday L. Bowman and first recorded by Earl Fuller's Rector Novelty Orchesta in 1917. In the early 1920s it became a hit thanks to Ted Lewis and
Abe Lyman who recorded it; so, in fact, Fats was right that this tune was rather corny - Fats' argument, that this tune was not the right material for his band, was correct. But, .......Ed insisted and the recording was made. It came out sounding as if it had been written for them, Al Casey remembered later.

Ed Kirkeby is known as the manager of Fats Waller, but he has been active in (jazz) music for more then 60 years .. ............ In a blog to come, entitled Ed Kirkeby in the Roaring Twenties, I hope to point you to a rather neglected part of his career, when he was also a band leader and crooner.
Hans Koert

Most people will remember Ed Kirkeby as the manager of Fats Waller - in 1966 his memoires about that bustling period in his career, were published as Ain't Misbehavin' - The Story of Fats Waller. It was one of the first jazz books I ever bought, as I collected Fats Waller's records during the 1970s and Ed Kirkeby's book contained a discography. Ed Kirkeby became Fats' manager in 1938, but met him for the first time in the Camden studios on the 24th of June, 1935, now 75-years ago being responsable for the recording session scheduled on that day. One of their first conversations has been survived: Is that you're last glass? No it's my first bottle. If you love to stay informed about the contributions in this Keep Swinging blog, ask for its newsletter.

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Blogger Jo said...

Thanks a lot, Hans, for this great contribution!

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Lillemor Lewander said...

Hi Hans,

Happy to have found your marvellous and most informative, pictured website about Fats Waller and his manager Ed Kirkeby.

What I miss in all info about Mr Kirkeby after searching the net including yours is his managing of my dear friends the Deep River Boys. I remember Ed Kirkeby as the Deeps´ manager from all their visites in Sweden and Norway at the 1950's - 1960's.

Ed Kirkeby started managing the Deep River Boys in 1943 after Fats Waller´s passing. From 1970 Harry Douglass (leader of the Deeps) took over the management himself, but Mr Kirkeby still worked for him for some more years by taking care of the mail at home.

Mr Kirkeby knew Harry Douglass since a touring with Fats Waller in 1941. You can see Harry on the nice picture on your site to the left at the side of Ed Kirkeby outside Waller´s tour bus!

Fats Waller was also backed up by the Deep River Boys on their recording of "By The Light Of The Silvery Moon" in 1941.

Kind Regards,

5:08 PM  

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