Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fiddlin' Around

Johnny Gimble in Nashville, 1975
Fiddlin’ Around is a Western Swing (or Texas Swing) tune written by one of the greatest purveyors of the style, Johnny Gimble. Western Swing was developed in the 1920s as an amalgamation of old-time fiddling, ragtime, jazz, and Ranchero music, and Fiddlin’ Around is one of the classics in the repertoire.

Johnny Gimble was born on May 30, 1926 in Tyler, Texas. He started playing the fiddle at age 10, and he was influenced by fiddlers Cliff Bruner and Cecil Brower as well as the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. He also studied the playing of Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen, who frequently performed and recorded with jazz legend Benny Goodman. It did not take long for Johnny to master the fiddle, and he joined the Texas Playboys in 1949 at the ripe age of 23.

Johnny wrote Fiddlin’ Around in 1961. As the story goes, he was driving his ’61 Rambler Classic from Waco, Texas to Springfield, Missouri one day to perform at the Ozark Jubilee, when a melodic idea popped into his head. He started steering the car with his knee so he could flesh out the idea on his fiddle right then and there, and Fiddlin’ Around was born. It was first released 12 years later as the title cut on an album he recorded for Capitol in 1973, and it was later featured on Chet Atkins’ album Superpickers (1974) as well as on the soundtrack for the movie Honeysuckle Rose (1980). Johnny was the most in-demand session fiddler in Nashville in the 1960s, and ‘70s, and Fiddlin’ Around remains his most popular compositional contribution to fiddle music.

Heroes featured Gimble and O'Connor duo
Double-stops and swing rhythm are perhaps the two most notable characteristics of Fiddlin’ Around. It is a challenging tune to play, especially when executing the double-stop passages featuring augmented tonalities and fourth-finger extensions. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the tune to master, however, is the simultaneous playing and “scat” singing. Musical motifs and arpeggio fragments are “scatted,” or sung, using a variety of improvised syllables and vowel sounds. Scat singing is a musical device most commonly employed in jazz, and Johnny used it often, including on the recording of Fiddlin’ Around he and I made together on my album, Heroes (1994). The solos, scatting, and overall interplay between the two instruments from that particular recording heavily influenced the version of the tune in this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment