Shorty Allen

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Pianist Shorty Allen, who also doubled on vibraphone, was active on the jazz scene in the '40s and '50s, but by the end of the latter decade had also become somewhat involved in the world of songwriting…
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Pianist Shorty Allen, who also doubled on vibraphone, was active on the jazz scene in the '40s and '50s, but by the end of the latter decade had also become somewhat involved in the world of songwriting and song-plugging. He was affiliated with such producers and record label owners as Joe Davis and was involved in the early recording career launch of the wonderful singer Leslie Uggams. Allen worked alongside some jazz greats indeed, particularly the brilliant singer Ella Fitzgerald, who demanded plenty from her piano accompanists, and served time alongside a young Kai Winding and a younger Stan Getz when these monster jazz hornmen were still figuring out what was going on inside a big band section. The former player was part of Allen's own Arcadia Ballroom band, which was active in the late '40s and early '50s. It was the professional start for trombonist Winding, who moved to the United States from Denmark in 1934. One of Allen's earlier gigs as a sideman was with John Benson Brooks, an arranger who had previously worked for Les Brown. Brooks formed a band for an engagement at the Howard Theater in Washington in 1944, which was where Allen first met Getz. These early recordings have been reissued several times, a result of the cult that insists every note played by Getz is worth hearing. Allen also worked in the Fred Norman band with players such as guitarist Danny Perri and Fats Waller alumni Cedric Wallace. The crafty Davis nabbed Allen to play vibes on an early Leslie Uggams session in 1952, the result of the producer's decision to enter the children's record market. These recordings of tunes such as "Percy the Pale-Faced Polar Bear," "Every Little Piggy's Got a Curly Tail," and "Palsy Walsy Land" were eventually considered children's classics. If the titles suggest something of a cultural descent from the sophistication of Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, or winding down a trail of clever harmonic substitutions, the worst was yet to come. By 1956, Allen was involved with quite insubstantial pop material, including light piano music with oohing background singers, but he did score big with a song entitled "The Rock & Roll Waltz." The Kay Starr cut of this record, done for RCA, was the number one song for half a dozen weeks and has been listed as the 16th most popular record of the so-called "1955-1959 rock era," something of a mind-numbing statistic that is only rivaled by the song's lyrics: "There in the night what a wonderful scene./Mom was dancing with Dad to my record machine./And while they danced, only one thing was wrong: they were trying to waltz to a rock & roll song." And so forth. While Allen was more than happy to take credit for the music of "The Rock & Roll Waltz," the party that came up with the lyrics remains something of a mystery. For the record, there is the "dick" theory, that someone by the name of "Dick" is the lyricist. This man has been identified variously as Dick Ware, Dick Wise, and Dick Wine. The confusion -- and it isn't over yet -- is actually quite typical of the publishing business, despite the fact that the entire nature of publishing is dealing with documentation regarding the names of composers and songs. Major publishers have time and time again demonstrated a complete inability to spell even a four-letter name right. There is also the theory that "The Rock & Roll Waltz" was a collaboration between Allen and novelty pop songwriter Roy Alfred, the inventor of the "Hucklebuck," again sometimes misidentified by publishers as Alfred Roy. A fairly complete Alfred discography, however, fails to mention his involvement with "The Rock & Roll Waltz," which would be quite an oversight even if it wasn't the 16th most popular record between 1956 and 1959. It is true that Alfred and Allen wrote songs together, coming up with "Cheerleader Flip," perhaps the 16th most overlooked song in history, which is a shame. Despite indications otherwise, the cowboy song "Ode to a Gnarly Footed Bath Tub" was written by a different Shorty Allen, as there was no evidence of Ella Fitzgerald ever having a cowboy backing her up on piano. "The Rock & Roll Waltz" became a dance band favorite and there were some cover versions, such as a recording by the Gedson Sisters, as well as a Swedish release, the "The Rock & Roll Valssi."