Photos and review by Steve Roby
Wednesday May 21, marked what would’ve been the 110th birthday for Fats Waller, an African-American pianist, singer and songwriter who is sometimes known as The Clown Prince of Jazz. Everyone from The Beatles* (yes, The Beatles) to Louis Armstrong has covered Waller, and the Bay Area’s own legendary Dan Hicks served as host for the Waller birthday celebration at the SFJazz Center.
Hicks, the longtime leader of Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks, ran into some serious health issues and was diagnosed with throat cancer in January. The 72-year-old Mill Valley resident canceled several out-of-town gigs before he began treatment, but the Waller tribute kept him going and he insisted on performing it.
According to SF Gate, to inspire his band before rehearsals, Hicks borrowed old movie shorts (“soundies”) of Waller from John Goddard, former owner of Marin’s Village Music. The effort paid off well.
A longtime Waller fan, Hicks gave a brief prepared introduction for every tune played throughout the evening, often adding his quick dry wit or commentary. The singer-guitarist noted that he personally selected all of the music for the evening’s program, complementing it with a “Hot Licks” slant.
During the performance, Hicks introduced the virtuoso Stride pianist Mike Lipskin to the crowd, who performed stellar renditions of “Viper’s Drag” and “Handful of Keys.” Mike was also a producer at RCA Records for 13 years, and his credits include work with Gil Evans, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Jefferson Airplane, and Duke Ellington, among others.
The only non-Waller song performed was Hicks’ own “Don’t Stop The Meter, Mack,” to which he furnished a Waller feel. Just for fun, Hick’s gave shout-outs to several celebrities in attendance — his old Charlatans bandmate George Hunter, singer Maria Muldaur, and Acoustic Warrior guitarist Turtle Vandemarr.
After a standing ovation, Hicks and his seven-piece band (The Hot Licks & The Lick Men) returned to the stage for “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Singers Daria and Roberta joined Hicks for some hipster dance steps during the piano solo.
Dan Hicks’ latest musical contribution is Live at Davies, which was recorded during his 70th birthday bash at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall in 2012. For more info on Dan Hicks, go to www.danhicks.net.
First set: Honey Suckle Rose | Your Feets Too Big | It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie | Sweet And Slow | Hold Tight | Jitterbug Waltz | Viper’s Drag
Second set: I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter | There’s Going To Be The Devil To Pay | Don’t Stop The Meter, Mack | Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now | Handful of Keys | Then I’ll Be Tired of You | The Joint Is Jumpin’
Encore: Ain’t Misbehavin’
Benito Cortez (violin, mandolin), Brian Simpson (drums), Michael Price (bass), Paul “Guitar” Robinson (guitar), Daria (vocals, percussion, melodica), Roberta Donnay (vocals, percussion), and Mike Lipskin (piano)
* The Beatles’ Last Night in Hamburg (Rockartoon) features “Your Feets Too Big,” and was recorded on December 31, 1962 at the Star Club in Hamburg. The Beatles’ Decca Tapes (Circuit Records) features “The Sheik of Araby.”
- See more at: http://www.bammagazine.com/concert-review-dan-hicks-pays-tribute-to-fats-waller/#sthash.iDalcC1x.dpuf