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Squeeze Me (1925)

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Origin and Chart Information
The song found one of its best interpreters in vocalist Mildred Bailey.

- Chris Tyle

Rank 171
Music Fats Waller
Lyrics Clarence Williams

An obscure 1925 recording by clarinetist Buster Bailey is the inauspicious debut of “Squeeze Me,” but two more recordings that year probably had more to do with establishing the popularity of tune.

In the mid-1920s, the center of the recording industry was New York, although Chicago’s vital music scene and indie companies were putting it in a strong second place. Yet the big recording companies sensed there was talent to be found outside the Big Apple and the Windy City and began sending scouts throughout the country to find new artists. Consequently, cities like Atlanta, St. Louis, and New Orleans that had no recording facilities were visited by portable recording units. Columbia Records, on a visit to New Orleans in September, 1925, recorded the popular local jazz group, The Halfway House Orchestra, led by cornetist Abbie Brunies. Brunies’ band made the first important recording of “Squeeze Me” as an instrumental.

A month later, pianist/bandleader Clarence Williams (credited as lyricist of the tune) recorded a vocal rendition with his wife Eva Taylor singing and Louis Armstrong and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins as part of the backup group.

The next important recording was made by the hugely popular African-American blues singer Bessie Smith in May, 1926, accompanied by Clarence Williams on piano. Although none of these early recordings were huge sellers, they made enough of an impact that the tune soon began on the bumpy road to being a standard.

The music for “Squeeze Me” was written by Thomas “Fats” Waller, based on an old bawdy blues number entitled “The Boy in the Boat.” Waller’s talent as a pianist and accompanist had been recognized by music publisher Clarence Williams, and Williams encouraged the young man to try his hand at composing. “Squeeze Me” was only his second published piece but his first real success.

 

More on Clarence Williams at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Fats Waller at JazzBiographies.com
 

Williams’ contribution as lyricist comes into question. At some point in the early twenties Waller had met lyricist Andy Razaf, probably when Waller was entertaining at a Harlem “rent party” (an event celebrated in Waller’s composition “The Joint Is Jumpin’”). The two began writing music together, forming a life-long partnership. In Barry Singer’s biography, Black and Blue: The Life and Lyrics of Andy Razaf, he mentions that Razaf admitted to a journalist in 1960 that he, not Clarence Williams, had written the lyrics for “Squeeze Me.” It’s a plausible story, as Williams was known to be, as jazz bassist George “Pops” Foster put it, “a horse thief.”

The song’s title explains the lyrics, a request to be the recipient of repeated hugs as “cupid is standing nearby.” The song found one of its best interpreters in vocalist Mildred Bailey. At an Esquire Jazz Concert in 1944, Mildred, a rather Rubenesque woman, received a rousing response from the audience when she sang the lines “pick me up, on your knee, I just get you know ooooo when you squeeze me.”

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Squeeze Me”

Original Key F major
Form  A1 - B - A2 - C
Tonality Primarily major
Movement “A” begins with ascending and descending fourths which are preceded by a short chromatic lead-in; “B” starts in a similar fashion but without the descent, whereas “C” descends chromatically before the penultimate measure and the final F major arpeggio descending from the fifth.

Comments     (assumed background)

The chord progression of “A” will be familiar to anyone remembering the 60’s novelty tune “Ma-na Ma-na.” In “B,” Waller follows the V7 chord with a minor “i7,” in this case, Fm7. Because the next chord is Bb7, we hear this as the beginning of a ii7 - V7 sequence leading to the new key of Eb, but Waller surprises us by resolving back to the V chord of C. Another deceptive resolution is the sound at “C,” where the F7-to our ears, a V7 of Bb-is followed instead by a diminished chord which begins a descent of parallel minor thirds-a series of diminished seventh chords that ultimately land on a G7 (V7/V). This is pure embellishment; any harmonic voice-leading function has been discarded at this point.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Jazz History Notes

Early recordings of this tune abound. Although Louis Armstrong had recorded the tune in 1925 in New York with fellow New Orleans native Clarence Williams, it’s Louis’ 1928 recording that is a masterfully conceived version, complete with a scat vocal by Louis and last chorus trumpet fireworks. (Louis also inserts a quote from the clarinet solo played on the famous New Orleans-associated march “High Society,” a lick also used by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker.)

Blues vocalist Bessie Smith’s version from 1926 is a fine example of her unique ability to turn what was essentially a popular song into a blues.

Mildred Bailey, a marvelous, lilting vocalist whose career began with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, recorded a splendid version in 1935 with a band that couldn’t miss, featuring Armstrong-influenced trumpeter Bunny Berigan, Duke Ellington’s alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, and Billie Holiday’s frequent pianist/accompanist, Teddy Wilson.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Clarence Williams
With Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet
Giants of Jazz (Italian

Louis Armstrong
Jazz After Hours
Jazz After Hours 200005

Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith Sings the Jazz
EPM Musique 157902

Mildred Bailey
Cocktail Hour
Columbia River 218045

iTunes
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Squeeze Me.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Bessie Smith’s soulful 1926 recording of “Squeeze Me” (The Complete Recordings, Vol. 3) is a duet with Clarence Williams on piano and quite possibly the definitive version of the song. It that is the case, though, Louis Armstrong is not far behind with his classic 1928 recording of the song (The Best of Louis Armstrong: the Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings) featuring excellent trumpet and vocal work as well as some excellent piano from Earl Hines. Composer Fats Waller’s own version from 1937 (Very Best of Fats Waller) is well worth a listen as well, both on its own merits and to hear his conception of the tune once it was already well-known.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Fats Waller
Very Best of Fats Waller
RCA
Original recording 1937

“Squeeze Me” composer Waller interprets his song here, years after its introduction to the jazz world. He plays the melody on the piano and then sings it, doing both masterfully.

iTunes
Various Artists
At the Jazz Band Ball
Memoir Records
Original recording 1940

Soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet and cornetist Muggsy Spanier play a spirited version of “Squeeze Me” here, in spite of the sparse accompaniment of only the bass of Wellman Braud and the guitar of Carmen Mastren..

Wild Bill Davison
Commodore Master Takes
Grp Records
Original recording 1944

Trumpeter Davison does a great job on this Dixieland-style interpretation of “Squeeze Me.” Perhaps most significant, though, is the work of clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, whose playing here quite possibly exceeds that of his numerous other recordings of the song.

iTunes
Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges
Side By Side
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1959

Alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges is at the helm here for a bluesy small-group recording featuring the piano of his longtime employer Duke Ellington. Also featured are guitarist Les Spann, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison and drummer “Papa” Jo Jones.

iTunes
Jimmy Smith
Fats Waller
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1962

Organist Smith is the only soloist here as he pays tribute to Fats Waller with a relaxed, sly and bluesy trio performance of “Squeeze Me” alongside guitarist Quentin Warren and drummer Donald Bailey

iTunes
Willie "The Lion" Smith
Pork and Beans
1201 Music
Original recording 1966

Pianist Smith, an important contemporary of Waller’s, plays “Squeeze Me” with a nice, relaxed swing feel and some rich harmonies. He sings along wordlessly through most of melody before adding some more straightforward vocals, some of them in French.

iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Hank Jones
Ain't Misbehavin'
1999 Original Jazz Classics 1027
Original recording 1978
In his tribute to Waller, pianist Jones slows down the pace considerably, and the result is a melancholy love letter, graceful and bittersweet.
iTunes
Ray Brown
Some of My Best Friends Are Guitarists
Telarc

Bassist Brown kicks off the album with this bright, cheerful reading that features guitarist John Pizzarelli swinging elegantly along with the trio.
iTunes
David Friesen
Three to Get Ready
2000 Summit (Classical
262)
In this unusual trio format--Friesen on bass, Clark Terry on trumpet, and Bud Shank on alto sax--Friesen keeps the rhythm on track while Terry and Shank lay down some lovely unison lines and all three play around the melody.

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Fats Waller and Clarence Williams

Year Rank Title
1925 171 Squeeze Me

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