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Tempo King

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Album Review

Tempo King & His Kings of Tempo was the name of a swing band that bent over backwards to sound like Fats Waller & His Rhythm during the years 1936 and 1937, when Waller was riding the crest of his hard-won popularity. The vocalist, whose identity may never be verified, churned out a steady stream of declamatory Wallerisms (as did a number of entertainers during the '30s, including showman Willie Bryant and more authentic jazzmen like Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, and Pat Flowers). Additionally, someone identified as Queenie Ada Rubin expended a lot of energy emulating Waller's piano technique with meticulous exactitude. Although this kind of imitative stride piano may be easier to enjoy than the conspicuous copycat vocals, it will rub some listeners the wrong way, particularly those who know, love, and respect the real Thomas Waller. The real reasons to listen to Tempo King & His Kings of Tempo are the inspired solos executed by trumpeter Marty Marsala and his brother, clarinetist Joe Marsala. Additionally, guitarist Eddie Condon was present on all of the group's Victor sessions, and the 23-track collection of reissued selections released by Timeless in 1998 visually emphasizes his involvement. While it's possible that Condon had something to do with putting the band together, he may have participated only reluctantly in a project that was so shamelessly imitative of his friend and role model Fats Waller. Perhaps the band was assembled by Ed Kirkeby, the former leader of the California Ramblers who had just signed on with Victor and would soon become Waller's manager. (Was the singer actually Kirkeby? Will the truth ever be told?) Like that of Waller, Tempo King's playlist consisted mainly of Tin Pan Alley pop songs, with "Organ Grinder's Swing," "I Would Do Anything for You," and Waller's own "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" standing out as more substantial jazz standards. Later Tempo King recordings, not included here, include more than a few pop tunes which were popularized by Waller and are in some cases still associated with his memory. These are not the complete recordings of Tempo King. In order to have reissued his entire known output, Timeless would have had to include 14 additional Bluebirds and 18 sides recorded for Vocalion during the remainder of 1937. Even as this appears to be the only Tempo King collection in existence, a more complete set is bound to materialize at some point, hopefully bearing the likenesses of Condon and both Marsalas. Whatever comes to pass, the riddle of the singer's identity will probably never be solved.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s

By 1936, Fats Waller was fast becoming one of the Victor label's most lucrative jazz artists, and his extraordinary popularity engendered a number of Fats Waller imitators. Vocalion assigned that role to Putney Dandridge, and Decca encouraged Bob Howard to modify his own act so as to resemble Waller's, while the people at Victor boldly (and somewhat tactlessly) set up a Waller sound-alike band billed as Tempo King & His Kings of Rhythm. This act crossed the line between inspired emulation and conspicuous...
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Tempo King, Tempo King
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