Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Getting Cozy With The Southside Aces

“Yeah!” Out of all the people who’ve ever uttered that singular word of excitement, out of the entire history of being excited, I think Fats Waller arguably uttered it best. I think his inflections could give it about seventeen different meanings. Of course, you add an “Oh” to it, and the honor shifts to Mr. Armstrong. But we can debate Yeah Semantics another time. My point is to talk about “Winter Weather.” Upper case. This song appears on the slowly-being-released Southside Aces album, Second Thursday, a vocal feature for Steve. As far as your lower-case winter weather goes, this year Minneapolis might lose it’s status as the go-to spot for a white Christmas. What we have instead is a rainy, foggy, sunless dreariness. The go-to spot for Rudulph! But it doesn’t diminish my enthusiasm for the tune.

It was 1941 when pianist Ted Shapiro wrote this holiday classic. When I call it a “holiday classic,” I’m saying it because the Internet tells me to. It’s more apt to call it a “seasonal” classic, as it maintains a strict focus on weather, not Christmas. At any rate, I confess it didn’t cross my radar until a few years ago, and I even like holiday tunes. Ted also had the distinction of being Sophie Tucker’s musical director for some forty years, and for her he wrote, “Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, But Oh How A Fat Girl Can Love.” I must be out of the loop, because that song never even bothered to come within the same county as my radar. Only “The Last Of The Red Hot Mamas” could sing a song like that! It included the line, “I’m just a truck on the highway of love.”

Red Hot Mama and Ted

I do digress. “Winter Weather” has a few things going for it. The melody has a falling, sighing quality perfect for a lyric that champions the benefits of spooning. But chief among its virtues is the fact that Fats Waller recorded it.

Click to hear Fatsy Watsy: Winter Weather

He brings it in on piano in that jaunty yet sly way that was his specialty. Even while he was being masterful, Fats always made you feel like he was winking at you. Then he sings a chorus. I’ve mentioned before how Shapiro’s lyric puts Mother Nature in the roll of wingman (see my previous post about that and the other songs Fats recorded in that session: “How To Get Through A Long Winter”).

I’m going to again boil the story of the song down to one paraphrased sentence: “When the temperature drops I get to snuggle with my sweetheart, so I’m going to go ahead and say I love the cold!” Fats is saucy, as you’d expect, making the innocent song blush just a little. “I love the winter weather,” he sings, “because I got my love to keep me warm.” He thoughtfully lingers on how warm his love is in the coda, “So warm, so nice and warm,” and concludes with one of his aforementioned famous exclamation points. “Yeah!” 

Did I mention naughty?

A young Peggy Lee had a hit singing it with Benny Goodman. I like it; it swings. But it’s speed makes the kissing and cuddling a little perfunctory. So we took our cue from Fats. In our recording, I copped Fats’ introduction for the horns to play, then we trade choruses with Steve, the band going first. The tune inspires a certain amount of lazy warmth, and we play as if we’re saying, “Hey. It’s cold out. Wanna come cuddle with the Southside Aces?” In case the image of cuddling with the whole band makes you a little uneasy, I won’t mention it again. Steve’s vocal on the other hand is sweet and personal, a slow dance. The rest of us cut in to say, “But if you want to take a nap with the whole band…” Sorry, I promised. Steve takes it back and finishes, down to the last “Yeah!”

Now. We made a mistake. When the Aces were going through the mixing stage of the album, we sort of forgot about “Winter Weather.” There’s quite a bit of reverb on the song that we never pulled back. At first we smacked our collective foreheads. But the more I listened, the more I thought “Happy mistake!” To me, the song comes on like a 1960s network Christmas special. 

I’m using Dino as my template

I picture Steve in profile looking to his left at the camera, fake strolling in front of a rolling winter diorama, soap flakes falling all about. Or maybe Steve in a smoking jacket lying on a plush white rug in front of the fireplace winking over a snifter of brandy, the band backing him up from the stairway that goes to a nonexistent second floor stage right…

I know I covered this, but are you sure you don’t want the Aces over for some cozy time? Come on, just put your head on our shoulder.

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