UKULELE MUSING 46, 30 NOVEMBER 2019: “Ain’t Misbehavin'” with lyrics by Andriamanantena Paul Razafinkarefo, no less!
We associate this song from our Yellow Book with the stride and jazz pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904-1943) but forget that the lyrics were by one Andy Razaf (1895-1973) who gives us a much more interesting back-story.
Razaf was born in Washington, D.C. His birth name was Andriamanantena Paul Razafinkarefo. His father, part of the royal family of Madagascar was killed during the French invasion of that country and his pregnant mother, the 15-year old daughter of a black American diplomat, was forced to escape to the United States.
He and his mother moved to Harlem, and at the age of 16 he quit school and took a job as an elevator operator at a Tin Pan Alley office building.
A year later he penned his first song text, embarking on his career as a lyricist. Swept up by the Harlem Renaissance, Razaf published poems in the emerging black press and soon was working with several Harlem composers.
Collaborating with Waller, they wrote—along with “Ain’t Misbehavin’”—many now-classic songs including “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint is Jumpin’,” and ”Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” In 1972, Razaf was recognized by his Tin Pan Alley peers in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“Fats” Waller was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, violinist, singer, and comedic entertainer. His innovations in the Harlem “stride” style laid the groundwork for modern jazz piano.
“Fats” Waller: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSNPpssruFY
His best-known composition is our song, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and it was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1984. Waller copyrighted over 400 songs, many of them co-written with his closest collaborator, Razaf,
who described his partner as “the soul of melody… a man who made the piano sing… both big in body and in mind… known for his generosity… a bubbling bundle of joy.” It’s possible he composed many more popular songs and sold or gave them to other performers when times were tough. Who knows? How about some jazz organ?
“Fats “ Waller Organ Jazz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmQbuTPF3lA&list=PLCB87A233341DCE22
Meanwhile, back to our song!
“Ain’t Misbehavin’” was written in 1929 for the Harlem and Broadway musical comedy “Connie’s Hot Chocolates”—a revue featuring black artists that, because of its popularity, was one of the earliest Harlem musicals to move to Broadway and play for predominantly white audiences.
Girls from the 1929 show:
It is said that Waller had the idea for the song while “lodging” in prison (for an alimony violation), and that is why he was not “misbehaving.” Razaf picked up the theme and ran with it!
As usual, our Yellow and Blue Books seldom offer more than the chorus of a song. So, here are the two verses used in the musical that make the song-story a bit more fun.
Verse 1: Tho’ it’s a fickle age, With flirting all the rage,
Here is one bird with self-control, Happy inside my cage.
I know who I love best, Thumbs down for all the rest,
My love was given, heart and soul, So it can stand the test.
Chorus: No one to talk with . . .
Verse 2 : Your type of man is rare, I know you really care,
That’s why my conscience never sleeps, When you’re away somewhere.
Sure was a lucky day, When fate sent you my way,
And made you mine alone for keeps, Ditto to all you say.
Chorus: No one to talk with . . .
Ruth Etting, With Verses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF4ZCmZT0j8
Another back-story has to do with, of all folks, Louis Armstrong.
He made his Broadway debut as part of the pit band for the show and his cornet solo on opening night was such a hit with the audience that he was asked to perform it on stage for the rest of the show’s run. Another musical tidbit!
Louis Armstrong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec0Es-Hdpn0
Our song has been around a long, long time and has been covered by nearly everyone in nearly every genre. It was the theme of a movie (with an all-white cast)
and a popular Broadway Musical (with an all-black cast) was based on the works of Waller.
From the Musical: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xg1DjwkxThc
Here are a few other interpretations—choose your earworm of the day!
Bill Hayley and His Comets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSJrcXpBg_s
Willie Nelson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv6N93klOZc
And, of course, Ukulele: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrxSJIHoIIk