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Irving Fazola: My Inspiration - His 26 Finest 1936-1946



Here is the only CD available spotlighting the artistry of one of the greatest of all jazz clarinettists, Irving Fazola - the best white clarinet player from New Orleans.

The great clarinettist Irving Prestopnick (1912-1949) became Fazola (from the tonic sol-far: Fah-Soh-Lah) or simply “Faz”. With his graceful phrasing and warm, liquid tone, he could only have come from New Orleans. This huge man, with his essentially melodic style owing something to Jimmie Noone, was the last in the line of New Orleans clarinet players, making a valuable contribution within the Swing Era. “My Inspiration” showcases his artistry with a 26-track distillation of the best of his tragically brief career – excess killed him at the age of only 36.

The survey begins with rare sides recorded with Ben Pollack groups, Sharkey Bonano, Seger Ellis, The Musical Maniacs and Glenn Miller during 1936/7. He went on to become a Bob Crosby star soloist during 1938/40 with whom his mellow-toned jazz classics included My Inspiration, Spain and Skaters’ Waltz. In addition there were memorable recordings with Jess Stacy (Breeze) and Muggsy Spanier (the wonderfully flowing Hesitating Blues etc.). The story ends with seven 1945/6 tracks with his own Dixielanders, including his delightfully wistful Sweet Lorraine, Mostly Faz and the classic Jazz Me Blues. In the words of Digby Fairweather: “With a sound like honey and a virtuoso’s technique, Irving Fazola was arguably the finest clarinettist to emerge in the swing era”.

Irving Fazola: My Inspiration - His 26 Finest 1936-1946


Showing exceptional musical talent, young Irving switched from piano to study clarinet aged 13. In 1927, aged 15 and still at school, he was offered his first paid work. By the age of 20 his playing was in demand through­out New Orleans, his home town. Heeding Louis Prima's playful advice he ditched his Slovenian name of Prestopnik (which apparently translates as "delin­quent") in favour of Fazola - a play on words with fah-soh-lah from the tonic sol-fa. Talent spotted by Ben Pollack, he joined Pollack in 1935, leaving New Orleans to rub shoulders with top musicians in various Pollack splinter groups. He subsequently worked with a number of top notch outfits, including Bob Crosby, Jimmy McPartland, Glenn Miller, Claude Thomhill and Muggsy Spanier. Fazola returned to New Orleans for good in 1943, remaining active until his early death aged 36 in 1949. Excessive drinking and eating had pushed his weight up to over 21 stone and obesity took its toll. By all accounts Fazola, dogged by increasing health problems, had become a churlish, quick­tempered and difficult man to work with. However there's no hint of angst in his delicate, lyri­cal and expressive phrasing, where the cool elegance of his ideas, stated with relaxed techni­cal mastery, is warmed by a limpid, rounded tone. Facets of New Orleans blues often pervade his style, in which nothing sounds forced or overstated. My Inspiration, an absolute masterwork, was included in Retrospective's Clarinet Mar­malade (Retrospective 4328). Other prime examples of Fazola's outstanding artistry include High Society and Qarinet Blues. The musical standard throughout is high, and there are so many contributions to enjoy - Harry James in Alice Blue Gown, Billy Butterfield and Eddy Miller on the Bob Crosby tracts, some magical Jess Stacy and spirited Muggsy, and much else. Full discographical information is given, including the numerous personnels, and playing time is very generous. This fine compi­lation covers a wide range of Fazola's recordings, from his very first in 1936 to the rare and well performed Dixielanders tracks from 1945-46. Jazz Journal

The 'Retrospective' label is produced by Nimbus Records and is devoted to nostalgia in its many forms. CDs on the label have presented the work of artists as diverse as George Formby, Jimmy Young, Marlene Dietrich, Steve Conway and Yves Montand. However, the material devoted to jazz is the area which is most pertinent to readers of Just Jazz and Ray Crick, the producer of the Retrospective CDs, has found some real gems, several of which I have had the pleasure of review­ing. There have been CDs by Harry Edison and Barney Kessell, but I also reviewed CDs by players who have been sadly neglect­ed, despite their immense talent: I am referring, in particular, to the Retrospective CDs by Dick Cathcart and Johnny Windhurst, which were exceptional.

Well, Ray Crick has done it again! This time, the artist plucked from relative obscurity is Irving Fazola. Indeed, though most jazz fans have heard of 'Faz', few will know his work in detail: were it not for the efforts of Pete Fountain, Irving Fazola would have been even less well-known. However, just play the first track on this CD, and you will be forced to question just how did Irving Fazola slip through the net? His big sound and lovely rounded tone is impeccable. He stands comparison with any and all of his great Swing contemporaries - Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Ed Hall, Barney Bigard, Peanuts Hucko etal. His sound was clearly influenced by Jimmie Noone, and maybe, his Albert-system instrument or crystal mouthpiece contributed, but it was certainly cause to sit up and take notice.

Except for the first track, the music is in chronological order: I assume that this was to present the title tune, My inspiration, as an introduction to Fazola's work. Fazola seemed to be happi­est in his hometown environment (New Orleans) and, though his reputation spread, it was only reluctantly that he was lured into the limelight, first by Ben Pollack, then by Glenn Miller and Bob Crosby. It seems he was not the easiest person to work with: argumentative, with a hot temper and foul-mouth, he made more enemies than friends. However, his brilliant playing transcends all that. As Bob Haggart (who wrote My Inspiration) said;".. .he could turn the air blue with his swearing,.. .but when he lifted that clarinet, we were all in heaven."

The fact that Fazola did not seem very gregarious would also explain that his work with other bands and musicians was very much limited in scope: a few names crop up throughout his musical collaborations. He played with Glenn Miller and Ben Pollack, who also worked together. He played with Jess Stacey and Bob Crosby, and Stacey was in the Bobcats. He was in the Sharkey Bonano band and guess who played drums - Ben 0 Pollack. Much of his recorded work was with Bob Crosby's*ltBobcats and Muggsy Spanier was also in the Bobcats. Small world, indeed! The final six tracks were recorded in 1945-46, after he had returned to his beloved New Orleans. The standard of his play­ing throughout the whole album never drops. Whilst the first track is the standout number, it is all first-class. Like too many others, Fazola died young, aged only 37, but his unhealthy lifestyle meant that his premature end was inevitable. Hugh Rainey, Just Jazz