Walter "Fats" Pichon

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When Walter "Fats" Pichon sang out he could easily be mistaken for Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon. His approach to the piano was perfectly compatible with the tradition known to critics…
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When Walter "Fats" Pichon sang out he could easily be mistaken for Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon. His approach to the piano was perfectly compatible with the tradition known to critics and historians as "stride," which is another way of saying that he could have held his own in the company of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson. Although he learned to play piano in New Orleans, Pichon didn't start making music in public until after moving to New York in 1922. His earliest known gig involved a summer-long engagement as a member of a quartet serenading the patrons at the Atlantic Hotel in Belmar, NJ. Sequestering himself at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Pichon studied music for four years before resuming his career as a performer. Not one to linger in familiar surroundings, he hooked up with a band from Dallas, TX, called the Eleven Aces and toured through Mexico before landing himself back in New Orleans. During the summer of 1926 he held down a position with trumpeter Sidney Desvigne. The following year he was heard leading his own band at the Pelican Cafe, before joining Desvigne in performance on the Mississippi riverboats. It was in 1928 that Walter Pichon returned to New York City. During 1929 and 1930 he made the recordings that would serve as his great phonographic legacy. On January 15, 1929, he sang "It's Tight Like That" with Luis Russell & His Orchestra. The very next day, Pichon was back in the Victor recording studio with King Oliver's Orchestra, singing "I've Got That Thing." Sometime during February of 1929, Pichon materialized as the piano-plunking member of an unusual trio calling themselves the Q.R.S. Boys. They cut four sides for the Q.R.S. label: "Dad Blame Blues," "Black Boy Blues," "Wiggle Yo' Toes," and "I've Seen My Baby (And It Won't Be Long Now)." The other two musicians on this date, tenor saxophonist Robert Cloud and steel guitarist King Ben Nawahi, show up on various hot Hawaiian-flavored records dating from this same time period.

On September 16, 1929, Walter Pichon made two sides of one record under his own name, bolstered by the camaraderie of trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen and guitarist Teddy Bunn. The titles, released on the Victor label, were "Doggin' That Thing" and "Yo Yo." During the month of July 1930, Pichon worked the piano in Fess Williams & His Royal Flush Orchestra. His supportive backing of the leader's vaudevillian sax on "Playin' My Saxophone" is noteworthy, while the piano solo on "Everything's Okay with Me" places Pichon squarely within the pantheon of solid Eastern Seaboard piano. Pichon was busy during this period writing arrangements for any number of bands. He took off for a tour with the Dusky Stevedores near the end of 1929, returned to New York, worked with Elmer Snowden, and hit the road with Fess Williams in 1931. By 1932, Pichon was back in New Orleans, leading his own band on the riverboats, sitting in with Armand Piron and Sidney Desvigne. He played the Memphis scene leading his own band in 1935, and led an ensemble accompanying legendary vocalist Mamie Smith. The year 1941 found Pichon initiating a long series of extended engagements at the Absinthe House in New Orleans. He worked there as a solo act throughout the 1940s and '50s, showed up at Cafe Society in New York in 1944 and 1948, and embarked on a tour of the West Indies in 1952. His final professional activities included solo appearances in Milwaukee, Chicago, and New Orleans during the early '60s, yet his ability to perform was curtailed by medicinal efforts to delay the gradual loss of his eyesight. Until someone unearths and releases latter-day recordings of this remarkable musician, listeners will have to be content with the handful of hot three-minute sides he left behind for everyone to marvel at.