Humor in jazz: puttin’ on the wits

Another great conversation between KPLU’s Nick Morrison and Kirsten Kendrick. Enjoy!

Humor in jazz: puttin’ on the wits

Jazz great Mose Allison, one of the artists in this survey of humorous jazz songs. AP
April is National Humor Month. So, Nick and I thought we’d explore the funny side of jazz.Here are  five jazz artists known for their wit as well as their jazz chops.

Humor is subjective, though, so to make this list as much fun as possible, be sure to go to the ‘Comments’ section below and recommend some jazz songs that make you laugh. Share a smile.

1: Your Feet’s Too Big—Fats Waller—The Very Best Of Fats Waller—RCA


Just mention Fats Waller’s name to a jazz fan and the reaction will be a smile.  At least.  Not only was Waller a hugely influential jazz pianist, he could pack more joy into a song than anyone.  In lesser hands, Your Feet’s Too Big (1936) probably would have been just another novelty song that would eventually disappear, but Fats made it a classic.

2: I’m Hip—Dave Frishberg—Classics—Concord


Dave Frishberg began his career as a pianist, working with artists including Zoot Sims, Carmen McRae and Ben Webster, but he’s become best-known for his songwriting, which is often quite humorous.  For I’m Hip, Dave collaborated with another very witty singer/pianist/songwriter, Bob Dorough.  The song is a delightful skewering of people (and you’ve met ‘em) who are trying so hard to be hip, they have to tell you how hip they are…which, as we all know, is decidedly un-hip.

3: The Shape Of Things—Blossom Dearie—Blossom Time At Ronnie Scott’s—Universal


Although Blossom Dearie was an accomplished jazz pianist, it is her voice that immortalizes her.  Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote this about Dearie’s vocal style: “Rarely raising her sly, kittenish voice, Ms. Dearie confided song lyrics in a playful style below whose surface layers of insinuation lurked. ”  Insinuation lurks like crazy in The ShapeOf Things, written by Fiddler On The Roof lyricist, Sheldon Harnick.  If you just listen to the melody, the song sounds like an old English folk song about true love; but when you listen to the words, you find that it’s something quite different.  And quite funny, in a rather bizarre sort of way.

4: Certified Senior Citizen—Mose Allison—The Earth Wants You—Blue Note


Over the past 50 years, singer/pianist, Mose Allison, has commented on the human condition in a number of great songs, many of which are also quite humorous.

In Certified Senior Citizen, released in 1993, Mose gives notice to the world that, even though he’s getting older, he’s not getting out of the way. As time goes along, this could become a ‘boomer’ anthem.

5: You’re Outta Here (Minor Drag)—Lorraine Feather—New York City Drag—Rhombus Records


Lorraine Feather was born into jazz.  Her father was a famous jazz writer (Leonard Feather), her mother was a big-band singer and her godmother was Billie Holiday. Combining those genes and influences, Lorraine has become one of today’s wittiest jazz singer/songwriters. You’re Outta Here comes from her 2001 CD, New York City Drag.

For this CD, Lorraine took instrumental songs by Fats Waller (yes, here comes Fats, again) and put lyrics to them.  You’re Outta Here is based on Waller’s composition, The Minor Drag.

A Blues Interlude, By Nick Morrison

One of the great things about working with the music staff at KPLU is that each member of the staff has their own unique interests and backgrounds in music, resulting in a wide variety of stories and interests. This one comes from KPLU’s Production Manager Nick Morrison. Enjoy!

A Blues Interlude

By Nick Morrison

Back in about 2001, when I was KPLU Music Director, I received a sketchy-looking CD out of nowhere by ‘Little George Sueref And The Blue Stars.’  It didn’t look very promising but, heck, it was my job to check it out.  So I put it on and this guy’s voice blew me away.

Little George was of Greek origin born in in the UK, sounding like some old-school American soul singer.  So I started checking around and found the name of a guy in California who was a fan of George’s and was bringing him to The States for a little tour….which happened to include one of the late-morning/early afternoon slots at the Bumbershoot Blues Stage.  So we decided to hook up there.  Not many people heard Little George that day but he was sublime.  And a nice dude. I put him in touch with a friend of mine in New York who tried to get him signed to a major record label but that eventually fell through.  (And I think it fell through because George didn’t want the complications.)

Anyway, George and I stayed in touch via email for a while.  In the last message I got from him, he told me he’d been on his way to a gig somewhere in London that day but had to pull over to the side of the road to put out a fire in the engine compartment of his car.  He put it out with his lucky hat.  Which, of course, ruined the hat….and since he doesn’t play without a hat on, he just turned around and went home. As I say…last I ever heard from him.  And no follow-up recordings, either.

So, last night I got a call from the guy in New York, who I’d also fallen out of touch with and he reminded me of our Little George adventure years ago.  He later followed up the phone call with this video.  After extensive websearching, neither of us could come up with any information about what George is up to … or even if he’s still among us.

Little George:  Just another one of the many great musicians out there who hardly anyone will ever hear of but who carry the spirit like it should be carried.