On April 10, we celebrate the birthday of Fess Williams, a mainstay of the jazz scene, both in Harlem and Chicago, for the bulk of the Jazz Age. While Duke Ellington (or maybe Fletcher Henderson) could easily be compared to Paul Whiteman, saxophone player Fess patterned his act more after Ted Lewis, with his “gas pipe” style of playing clarinet.
Fess began life as Stanley R. Williams in Danville, Kentucky in 1894. He was educated at the Tuskegee Institute, and started his first band in 1919. In 1923, Fess went to Chicago, and to New York the next year. His nickname coming from “Professor”, by ’26, he had begun leading his most popular outfit, the Royal Flush Orchestra, with whom he recorded until 1930. Though he continued to lead bands into the 1930s, his style fell out of fashion with the coming of swing, and he began selling real estate, though he remained sporadically involved in music. In 1962, his nephew Charles Mingus set up a reunion of sorts for the Fess and the Royal Flush Orchestra in his Town Hall Concert in New York. Fess Williams died in 1975.
Brunswick 3351 was recorded October 1, 1926 in New York by Fess Williams’ Royal Flush Orchestra under the pseudonym “Bud Jackson’s Swanee Serenaders”. It was also issued on Vocalion 1054. The band features George Temple on trumpet, David “Jelly” James on trombone, Fess Williams on clarinet and alto sax, Perry Smith on clarinet and tenor sax, Hank Duncan on piano, Ollie Blackwell on banjo, and Ralph Bedell on drums. Fess provides the vocals on both sides.
One of the finest sides by Fess Williams’ band (and one of the finest sides in general, if you ask me) is “Messin’ Around”.
On the reverse, they play that enduring little ditty, “Heebie Jeebies”.