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Muzak: not a dirty word?

The legendary and incomparable Fats Waller, Muzak? Say it ain’t so.

Muzak was one of many transcription services for which musicians—many of them now regarded as legendary jazz artists—regularly cut recordings that weren’t peddled to the public in stores. The only time anyone heard these sides (which often exceeded the 3.5 minute limitations of the ten inch 78 rpm record) was when they were aired over radio waves as filler. Transcription recordings by Duke Ellington, Claude Thornhill and dozens more have been reissued and often represent some of the best material we have from that period (30s & 40s). I believe this was largely due to the fact that the A&R directors usually associated with commercial recording sessions were absent or “defanged” for the transcription sessions, which weren’t geared towards selling units in stores.

Jesse Walker sums up:

That’s right: The company that has probably received more sneers from music lovers than any other corporation not only recorded some of the greatest jazz artists of the last century, it often gave them more time and freedom than the major labels did. Arwulf goes on to describe Fats Waller’s Muzak sessions, “which underline perhaps the most important and least recognized aspect of Thomas Waller—his subtlety.” There’s a link to one of Waller’s Muzak recordings too. Read the whole thing.

Indeed you should. It’s very danged interesting, and I didn’t know a lot of this stuff myself.

2 thoughts on “Muzak: not a dirty word?

  1. Many years ago my hubby was hired to arrange and record guitar renditions for easy listening stations. The music on those stations had fairly strict rules ie: no horns before noon, etc.

    They brought in the Phoenix symphony to back him up and paid him handsomely. For many years his music was played in syndication over the entire country.

    One funny incident was a musician friend who heard one of the songs and thought, “Holy crap, that sounds like Harold” (he has a very distinctive style), and called him from Florida.

    But the funniest of all was when the symphony director (symphony players are rather snotty shits) turned to Harold and said, “Do you know what “tacet” means?” Uh, well – guess not. He does now…

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