NOHO BANJO AND UKULELE MUSING–“AIN’T MISBEHAVIN'”

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.

Ain’t Misbehavin’


 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!

Barbershop:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAMHEKTVAEA

Bill Hayley and His Comets:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSJrcXpBg_s

Willie Nelson:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv6N93klOZc

Django:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGmAkFWD3PA

And, of course, Ukulele:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrxSJIHoIIk

Stay Tuned!

MUSICAL MUSING: No. 2, October 2022: Colorful Days and Songs in New and Old New England

Those of us who live in New England—whether or not we grew up here or chose to live here—recognize it as a special place in American culture as well as history. It wasn’t just the Mayflower of 1620; remember the Winthrop Fleet of 1630 as well as those who arrived well before and well after! 

We can take pride in the fact that many of our towns date back to the 1600s and that New England has long been a leader in manufacturing, commerce, and education.  All this with a colorful, rolling landscape from the hills and valleys to the shore. 

Needless to say, a lot of musical pride has been exhibited over the years giving us a nice segue into this seasonal musing.

Here’s an early take on romantic New England from one of the original “crooners” of the 1930s. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to listen and look at the full moon!

Alas, we don’t have a period sheet music cover for this next one, probably because it dates from about 1630! In fact, it’s considered by some historians and scholars as “America’s first folk song.” It doesn’t paint that pretty a picture of New England but here it is! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to be taken way, way back in time to learn about “New England’s Annoyances.” Have things changed that much?

Make’s you want to ask: “Tell me again why we chose to live in New England.” Just kidding, of course . . .

Let’s just move on to other New England states and their contribution to musical lore. There are so many tunes to choose from so I’m going to cull down to just a few. That gives me more to post at a later date!

Let’s start a counterclockwise musical “bus tour” through New England pivoting around our home state of Massachusetts. As we make those twists and turns–no Midwestern grid system here in New England–so don’t forget to “USE YA BLINKAH!”

Heading due south . . .

This song doesn’t have much to do with the State of Connecticut but it is a fun reminder of the Bing Crosby film of the 1950s based ever so loosely on Hartford dweller Mark Twain’s opus. Click or tap on the next image or link to make yourself “busy doing nothing.” I guess that musing is a form of not doing much of nothing.

And, of course, the Connecticut state song–a ukulele version, no less. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to strum along. It’s pretty much an all-New England tune but Connecticut claims it as their own. I guess they get the “macaroni.” Go figure.

Continuing our tour east along the coast . . .

Here’s the Guy Lombardo version from 1945 of this most well known of all Rhode Island songs. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to hear it on an early 78.

Alas, nothing about Rhode Island from the state’s most famous musical son–George M. Cohan. Go figure. Moving on . . .

But, don’t chicken out. Just click or tap on the next image or link to hear a rather silly song of the 1950s but, it’s about Rhode Island, of sorts.

Moving a bit farther north around Cape Cod, Boston, and the North Shore of our home state on our musical trek . . .

Alas, pretty fuzzy photos with this one but the early wax recording doesn’t sound that bad. To be transported back to the 19th century, click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link.

Now, I’m going to break my musing rules a bit and add a new New Hampshire song that’s too good not to include. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to see what this state is all about!

Moving way up north now, even if it is known as “down east” . . . Again. Go figure!

Here’s a jazzy version of this 1920s musical Maine treat. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link for the music, lyrics, and visuals!

Sometimes a “state” song has more to do with something other than nostalgia and more with real history. Folks probably “Remember the Maine!” more than they think about the State of Maine. Such is the power of song, history, and a famous American rallying cry.

This isn’t a recording of the above song but it is one of the more famous old-time folk songs and, after all, it does have something to do with the sinking of the battleship Maine! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link for a nice version of this one.

And, of course, we need the quintessential Maine song from the 1930s. Here it is performed by a bunch of “Mainiacs” (I guess they prefer “Mainers”)! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link, grab a stein of Harpoon or Alagash, and join in on this campus rouser!

Time to sober up (buuurrrp,) and head southwest . . .

Now here’s another song from a few hundred years ago, again without a period sheet music cover. But, click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link for a ballad of Vermont’s own “Green Mountain Boys.

Here is what has become a jazz standard in daylight as well as moonlight, played on the ukulele, no less! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to float away on a moonbeam of sorts.

As a bit of a digression, we folks from Northampton, Massachusetts, can proudly claim Calvin Coolidge as one of our own, but the folks in Vermont do hang on to the mere fact that he was born and grew up there. We have the Massasoit Street home and the Presidential Library; they can have the birthplace. Credit goes where credit is due! Besides, Massachusetts has better Maple Syrup! Nya, nya, nya . . .

And now, let’s “flip the blinkah” and head back home to Massachusetts!  

There are a few relatively new songs that are decidedly Massachusetts in origin and lore if not in title. Suffice it to say that if you want to dig into these on your own, head over to our friends at YouTube and there will be all sorts of fun waiting for you!

But, back to our favorite little musical instrument and musing.

Here’s a nice ukulele version of this Massachusetts tune played on an eight-string baritone uke. Nice sound! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen.

While “Alice’s Restaurant” is probably Arlo Guthrie’s most well known song about Massachusetts, did you know that he wrote the official state FOLK song? Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for his rendition of “Massachusetts.”

Now, to put the cherry on top of the Massachusetts part of our musical tour, here is one of the strangest musical performances you’ll ever see. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to take the statewide tour!

So, as the sun sinks slowly in the west (that is, non-New Englandy New York), we end our musical bus tour.

And, even if we remain sequestered and safe, we can look out the windows of our bus (or home) and take in New England in all its Autumnal glory.

So, STAY TUNED! And, remember, in New England we welcome folks of all proclivities and persuasions!