Saturday, April 2, 2016

Squattin' At The Grotto - A 1938 Musicale

Definition of 'Squatting' (from Wikipedia):

Squatting is a posture where the weight of the body is on the feet (as with standing) but the knees are bent either fully (full or deep squat) or partially (partial, standing, half, semi, parallel or monkey squat). In contrast, sitting, involves taking the weight of the body, at least in part, on the buttocks against the ground or a horizontal object such as a chair seat. Crouching may involve squatting or kneeling. It is possible to squat with one leg and assume another position (such as kneeling) with the other leg. Among Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Eastern European adults, squatting often takes the place of sitting or standing.

Doctors and health preachers advice people to be squatting at the grotto while visiting the toilet, the guy to the right seems to have followed that advice. Now, let's get over with this definition of the meaning of 'squatting'.

William John "Bill" Harty (1899-1959) was an Irish born jazz drummer.

Born in Waterford in Ireland in 1899, Harty moved to Birmingham in England after World War I and took up the drums while working for the Dunlop Tyre Company. He played with various local bands on the early Birmingham jazz scene before deputising with an American band at the Birmingham Palais. He toured around Europe for much of the 1920s before returning to England to play with bands led by Harry Shalson, Al Starita, Jean Pougnet, Bill Gerhardi, Percival Mackey, Arthur Lally and Lew Stone. In 1934 he became the manager of Ray Noble's band, sailing to the United States with Noble later that year. He remained as Noble's manager into the 1950s (info from Wikipedia)

Columbia 35694
In March 1938 Bill Harty arranged a recording session for Columbia in Los Angeles featuring a pick-up ensemble of musicians from Jimmy Dorsey's orchestra and George and Bobby Van Eps. Bill Harty contributed as a drummer on the four sides that were recorded.

Discographical info from Tom Lord's discography (vers. 9.0), click to enlarge
According to the discographical info shown above, two of the recorded tunes were issued on Columbia 35694 while the other two were issued on Vocalion 4183. Here I'll focus on the two tunes at the Columbia 78 rpm disc containing the recording of Squattin' at the Grotto and Lock It Up on the flip side, both registered as a George Van Eps musicale. A musicale is a music program forming the main part of a social occasion, the word points to the same event as the French 'soirée musicale' and in the context of the record it may be interpreted as music for listening rather than dancing. The tune Squattin' at the Grotto is composed by John and George Van Eps and it is subtitled as a Banjo Novelty, a rather strange tune, which may be characterized as a theme with variations. The flip side of the disc featuring Lock It Up may be considered a further evaluation of the theme and structure of Squattin' including short solo spots of improvisation by trumpet, trumbone, reeds, piano, guitar and drums. The title Squattin' at the Grotto has been said to refer to a famous Chicago restaurant and club, which occasionally had Earl Hines and his orchestra as musical entertainment.

Below is inserted Squattin' at the Grotto as recorded on March 15, 1938 by the George Van Eps Ensemble

The flip side of Columbia 35694 has the recording of Lock It Up by the same ensemble

As mentioned, Squattin' at the Grotto is a somewhat strange music. When recorded in March 1938 it must have been considered this way, at least. The arrangenment, however, is great and so is the arrangement of Lock It Up. Both tunes are (co-)penned by George Van Eps,  who is the inventor of the 7-string jazz guitar and a master of this instrument. He constructed the first model in cooperation with the Epiphone company in 1938 to extend the possibilities of playing both bass lines, chords and melody line simultaneously by applying a finger picking technique. In this context you can perceive Squattin' at the Grotto and Lock It Up as examples or drafts of a way of thinking music with/for the guitar which George Van Eps would evalute later after having switched to the 7-string jazz guitar. Fact is, that an arrangement of Squattin' at the Grotto for solo guitar copyrighted 1939 exists. This arrangement of Squattin'at the Grotto, however, is to be played using plectrum chord style picking technique, and it has been recorded by Bucky Pizzarelli, another jazz guitarist who plays the 7-string guitar, using the plectrum chord style technicque.

Bucky Pizzarelli
Squattin' at the Grotto was released on Bucky Pizzarelli's Arbours solo album titled April Kisses.

To end this I'll insert another solo guitar version of Squattin' at the Grotto featuring guitarist Brandon Azbill, who made a recently uploaded video showing how he plays the tune


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