Going Way Back With That Eminent Hipster, Donald Fagen

Just in time for the recent holidays, Donald Fagen published his memoir “Eminent Hipsters”.   The book’s first chapter introduces us to one of his earliest musical influences, The Boswell Sisters.   Fagen lauds them saying, “…when I became familiar with the early work of Connie and her two sisters, I discovered that the Boswells had created a body of work rivaling that of Duke Ellington”.  High praise to say the least.

One Boswells song that Fagen discusses is “Heebie Jeebies”, a tune originally recorded by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five in 1926 and covered by The Boswell Sisters in 1929.   Below are the original by Armstrong and the Boswells’ version, with their tight harmonies and brisk rhythms. By the way, while of questionable historical accuracy, the Armstrong version is sometimes cited as the first scat singing on record (it comes at about 1:50).

Lest you worry that Fagen’s effusive tribute to The Boswell Sisters evidences any lack of respect for Duke Ellington, Steely Dan’s third album “Pretzel Logic” included a cover of Ellington’s first record to make the charts “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”. Here is Ellington’s original from 1927 featuring the song’s co-writer, trumpeter Bubber Miley, and Steely Dan’s 1974 cover with guitar wizard Jeff Baxter’s imitation of a muted trumpet.

And here’s one more nod by Fagen to the Duke. Fagen’s most recent solo album, 2012’s “Sunken Condos”, featured the track “Weather in My Head”. When Fagen played the tune live on “Late Night with David Letterman”, what was that photo on the front of his electric piano? None other than the Duke and his orchestra!

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