The Minor Drag: Fats Waller (a quiz)

September 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm (Anti-Racism, history, jazz, Jim D, United States)

…or was it ‘Harlem Fuss’?

Above: Waller on the right, and Condon (second from left).

Eddie Condon’s description of this recording session (the morning after a major drinking session with Fats Waller, whom he was supposed to be ‘minding’ for the record company), on 1st March 1929:

“We stopped at the Riverside Towers and I got my banjo. At ten minutes before twelve we walked into the Leiderkranz Hall at Fifty-eighth Street and Lexington Avenue. Mr Adams (boss of the Southern Music Company – JD) was waiting for us.

“‘I see you are punctual,’ he said to me. ‘Congratulations.’  To Fats he said, ‘Well, Mr Waller, what is it to be this morning?’

“‘ Well, Mr Adams,’ Fats said, ‘this morning I think we’ll start with a little thing we call ‘The Minor Drag.’  It’s a slow number.  Then we got a little ol’ thing for the other side we call – he hesitated – ‘Harlem Fuss’…

“…When we finished Mr Adams came of of the control-room. He didn’t say anything. We listened to the playback.

“I had a difficult time believing what I heard because it sounded wonderful. I looked at Mr Adams. He was smiling.

“‘You see,’ he said to me, ‘what careful rehearsal will do? You have performed your job excellently.’

 “I walked over to Fats. ‘What are we going to play for the other side?’ I whispered. ‘What is Harlem Fuss?’

“‘It’s just a little blues in a major key,’ he said.

“We made it. When the master was cut Mr Adams was delighted.

“After that the Southern  Music Company, with careful planning and preperation, brought out the record on a Victor Label with the titles reversed: ‘Harlem Fuss’ was called   ‘ The Minor Drag’ and ‘ The Minor Drag’ was called ‘ Harlem Fuss.’ I got my seventy five dollars.”

Quiz question: what was racially/socially ground-breaking about Fats Waller’s “Harlem Fuss/ Minor Drag”  1929 recording session?

Prize: any Eddie Condon or Fats Waller CD you wish copied from my collection and posted to you free of charge.

PS: Stroppy remembers Jimmy Hendrix – like Waller a short-lived, wayward musical genius – 40 years on.


  1. les said,

    because it was one of the first (if not the first) integrated recording sessions on a jazz label?

  2. jim denham said,

    Not quite, les: Jelly Roll Morton with the (white) New Orleans Rhythm Kings (1923) and ‘Eddie’s Hot Shots’ (Eddie Condon with a racially integrated band, February 1929) pe-dated it. But you’re on the right track: take it just a bit further…

    Clue: the records came out under the name of ‘Fats Waller And His Buddies.’

  3. jim denham said,

    OK: people are having trouble with this. les came close. But think “leader”/ “sideman”…

  4. les said,

    well, just a guess here, but based on your clues, could it be that this was the first recording of an integrated jazz band with an african-american musician as the acknowledged leader/composer of the tune, presented in a more relaxed and egalitarian atmosphere, i.e. “his buddies”, and it wasn’t released as a “race” record? sorry, but my knowledge of early jazz is nowhere near as exyensive or thorough as yours.

    on the other hand, the exploitation of musicians is an ongoing issue. you know, shitty pay for shitty gigs. but, was 75 dollars the standard wage back then for a recording, or did eddie and fats, because they were well-known names, make a little extra? and indeed, did fats waller get paid the full amount? i know that several musicians ripped him off in later years and claimed some of his tunes as their own. equal pay and formal recognition of a black jazz musician in 1929 would have been groundbreaking.

  5. jim denham said,

    I think les has got close enough to be declared the winner (not that there was any competition!).

    I was really getting at the point that this was the first ever record on which the leader was black and a sideman was white.

    If you want a prize, email me your address at

    Any Fats Waller or Condon CD: if you’re familiar with either and have any preferences let me know. Otherwise I’ll choose for you…

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