From the Archive: “Rifftide” And Rifftides

(This item originally appeared in Rifftides on July 19, 2005)
A Little “Rifftide” Geneology
Annie Kuebler, the Mary Lou Williams archivist at the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, gives us further insights into “Rifftide.” That is the 1945 Coleman Hawkins recording that inspired the name of this blog. She does not say that Hawkins stole the tune from Williams, only that it is likely to have been lodged in his mind when he played on a little-known record date with Mary Lou a couple of months before his own session. In the mid-forties, Hawkins and Williams were major swing era musicians encouraging and aiding the younger players who were developing bebop. Hawkins gave Thelonious Monk one of his most important early jobs as a pianist. Wiliams had a profound influence on the Swing to Bop.jpgnew music’s pianists. She told Ira Gitler in an interview for his book Swing To Bop, “We were inseparable, Monk, Bud Powell and I. We were always together every day, for a long time.”

Here is the note Ms. Kuebler sent us about “Rifftide.”

On December 15, 1944, Moe Asch recorded six cuts titled Mary Lou Williams and Her Orchestra in New York City. Williams’s arrangement of “[Oh] Lady Be Good” is nearly identical to Hawkins’s “Rifftide”–and one doesn’t need a musicologist to explain it. It just takes a listen. The only real difference is the breaks to accommodate the various musicians.

Originally recorded on 78 rpm Asch 552-3 as a three record set, the recording is now available on CD on the Chronological Classics Series # 1021, Mary Lou Williams 1944 -1945. Thumbnail image for Mary Lou Williams.jpgThe personnel for four of the cuts is Hawkins – tenor sax; Joe Evans – alto; Claude Green – clarinet; Bill Coleman – trumpet; Eddie Robinson – bass; Denzil Best – drums; and, of course, Williams on piano.

Obviously, this recording precedes “Rifftide,” attributed to Hawkins, from Hollywood Stampede on February 23, 1945. I don’t believe enough time had passed that Hawkins forgot the source, but that’s an opinion. Since my music manuscript archivist career began with Duke Ellington’s Collection, I am not judgmental about these things — just like to lay the facts out. In such matters, I am always reminded of Juan Tizol’s reply when asked if Ellington stole songs, “Oh, he stole. He’d steal it from his own self.”

Hope this helps. Thank for naming your website after a great underrated artist’s arrangement.

Before she joined the Institute for Jazz Studies five years ago, Annie Kuebler spent twelve years at the Smithsonian Institution. There, among many other achievements, she accomplished the massive task of organizing the manuscripts in the Smithsonian’s Duke Ellington collection. Her contributions to preserving large segments of American art and culture are invaluable. Thanks, Annie

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