• Stealin’ Apples

A variety of searches has led to today’s seasonal post.  Following up last month’s excerpt from John Clare’s A Shepherd’s Calendar (about a boy nicking fruit from orchards in the dead of night) and thinking about Eddie Condon’s career after recording The Minor Drag with Fats Waller, I’ve come up with this.

Consider the situation.  You’ve been asked to put together a new Encyclopaedia of Music with some crusty old professors.  Then someone tells you that there’s a new type of music that you must include in the book.  But you know nothing about it.  What do you do?  Simple.  Get involved with an attractive young night-club singer who knows about such things and who’s wanted by the police about her gangster boyfriend.  Of course, you must invite some of the practitioners of this new-fangled music to play some of it for you.  Imagine Grove 6 inviting the Sex Pistols around for tea and crumpet.

Then you film the results for international distribution.  Absurd?  Well, it’s been done.  Danny Kaye (Professor Hobart Frisbee!) and Virginia Mayo (Honey Swanson) are the acting stars in A Song Is Born (Howard Hawks, 1948).  And the musicians?  None other than Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, Mel Powell and Benny Goodman (‘disguised’ as Professor Magenbruch).

These last three star in the scene above (with the other two contributing to the introductory dialogue), rather archly set-up and hammed it’s true (watch the stop-time …), but it’s a brilliant performance of Fats Waller’s song Stealin’ Apples (1936).  There’s some great playing by Powell on piano and especially by Hampton on vibes.  It fair jingles along.

There are many other performances out there of this song.

• Benny Goodman’s performance in Los Angeles in 1961 of Fletcher Henderson’s 1936 arrangement is smooth, zippy, though the sound quality is poor in places; there are also some interesting audience shots <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evS47squKmM>
• Eddie Condon recorded it a year later in a TV studio with his All Stars septet, giving even greater prominence to the clarinettist (Peanuts Hucko) than in the other two videos <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NKFEm9Qd1w>.

Thanks to enquiries made by Nancy Giffin, Bill Haesler and Adrian Ford, it’s also possible to bring you Andy Razaf’s lyrics, although it appears that Stealin’ Apples has never been recorded in its song form.

I was always taught that it was wrong to be a thief.
He who took his neighbour’s good would surely come to grief.
There’s exceptions to the tune I guess,
What I used to take brought happiness.

Apple time was always time for stealin’,
Just to be with you was so appealin’
Takin’ chances
Stealin’ apples with you.

We would wait and catch the farmer nappin’,
In his orchard anything could happen,
Takin’ chances,
Stealing apples with you

I could hardly wait until you would bite one,
For it meant a kiss if it was the right one.
What a joy dear, it would be,
If I could find myself once more back in wildwood,
Takin’ chances,
Stealin’ apples with you.


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