Stories of Standards: "Ain't Misbehavin'"

Sep 22, 2017

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In 1929, having first taken the musical revue “Connie’s Hot Chocolates” on the road, the composers decided they needed another song or two for the downtown production at Connie’s Inn and came up with “Ain’t Misbehavin’," starting with Andy Razaf’s phrases which developed into the song’s lyrics. In June of 1929 the show moved to the Hudson Theatre on Broadway, where it was renamed “Hot Chocolates”. Waller’s recording of the song with vocals for the 1943 film “Stormy Weather” received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1984 and it was included in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004. In 1978 it was the title song of the Tony-winning musical “Ain’t Misbehavin'."

Fats Waller (1904-1943) won a talent contest in 1918 playing James P Johnson’s “Carolina Shout”. Considered the “grandfather of the jazz organ”, Waller played in his father’s church and local vaudeville and silent films. His career led him on the road and to Hollywood where he acted, sang and played piano. His sudden death of pneumonia while travelling by rail near Kansas City was unexpected even by those travelling with him. It seems unlikely that the full range of his compositions will ever be known, as he frequently came up with melodies in a few minutes, then sold them for a few dollars.

Harry Brooks (1895-1970) remains best known for the songs he composed in 1929 with Fats Waller and Andy Razaf. Having started as a pianist with local Pennsylvania bands, he also composed for a music publisher. He went on to work with Sidney Bechet and Noble Sissle, producing “Southern Sunset” in 1938 with them.

Andy Razaf (1895 - 1973) was born in Washington, D. C., after his mother and grandfather fled Madagascar, which had been invaded by France. He became a semipro baseball player before going to New York in 1921, where his reputation as a poet led to jobs as a lyricist with Eubie Blake, Fats Waller and Paul Denniker.  He wrote columns for social protest publications and never stopped working for liberal causes.