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Nick Fatool
Nick Fatool
September 26, 2000
Age 85 

 

Cause of Death Pending 
 

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Gordon's Pick:  Benny Goodman Sextet
  
  
  
Left: Abe Lincoln with Nick Fatool (right) March, 1997 
photo by Michael H. Pittsley 

                               

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
     
     Born: January 2, 1915 in Milbury, Massachussetts 
     Died: September 26, 2000 in Los Angeles, California 
     by Kenny Mathieson 
     Copyright © 2000 Kenny Mathieson 
     The Scotsman, 2000 
  
A Sensitive and Musical Drum Stylist
 
     Nick Fatool made his reputation as the tasteful but driving drummer behind a succession of big 
     name bands at the height of the swing era and well beyond, but may have secured his firmest 
     grip on immortality in the recordings he made with the Benny Goodman Sextet in the late 
     1930s and early 1940s.  

     These were the seminal records in which guitarist Charlie Christian redefined the role of his 
     instrument in jazz, although the guitarist only made the band when Goodman was persuaded to 
     give him a second chance, having failed to match up to the irascible clarinetist’s demands in an 
     initial audition with Fatool which was heavily weighted against the guitarist.  

     Nick Fatool was born in Milbury, and began playing drums while still in high school in 
     Providence, Rhode Island. He made his professional debut with the dance band led by pianist 
     Joe Haymes before being recruited by Goodman in 1937 as a replacement for Lionel 
     Hampton, who was launching a successful career of his own, albeit as a vibes player rather 
     than a drummer. Fatool played in both Goodman’s big band and the sextet, and is heard on 
     famous recordings like ‘Flying Home’, ‘Rose Room’ and ‘Seven Come Eleven’.  

     He appeared with the Sextet in the famous Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 
     December, 1938. The concert was recorded by John Hammond, still a rare event in those 
     days, and in an era where recording drums was still a primitive art, the engineer contrived to 
     record Fatool in especially prominent fashion, allowing posterity a better than usual 
     appreciation of his driving swing patterns and crisp, punchy hi-hat accents.  

     Goodman was a notoriously difficult employer, and Fatool had several run-ins with the leader 
     before leaving the band in acrimonious circumstances after a disagreement in 1940. He was 
     quickly snapped up by another famous clarinettist of the day, Artie Shaw, who was forming a 
     new band at the time.  

     Fatool is heard on the original recording of Shaw’s ‘Concerto for Clarinet’, and also worked 
     with distinguished band leaders like Claude Thornhill and Alvino Rey in New York, before 
     making the move to the west coast in 1943. He settled in Los Angeles and became a studio 
     musician, but still took the opportunity to work with bands led by the likes of Harry James and 
     Les Brown whenever he could.  

     His extensive work in the film studios included playing on the soundtracks for the jazz-based 
     films Young Man With A Horn in 1949, Pete Kelly’s Blues in 1955, and The Five Pennies, a 
     film biography of trumpeter Red Nichols, in 1959, and an appearance on screen with Fred 
     Astaire, Paulette Goddard and Artie Shaw in Second Chorus.  

     He appeared on television with Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby in 1951, and later became 
     the regular drummer on Crosby’s television show, from 1957-9. He was also active in the 
     recording studios throughout his career, playing with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Erroll 
     Garner, Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosby and Nat ‘King’ Cole, among others. He worked over a 
     long period with pianist Jess Stacy, another musician who had suffered from Goodman’s 
     belligerence.  

     Over the years he shifted his focus away from the swing big band style toward the Dixieland 
     revival, and he played with many of the luminaries in that field, including clarinetists Barney 
     Bigard and Pete Fountain, and the World’s Greatest Jazz Band and the Dukes of Dixieland. 
     He was a more subtle stylist than is common in the genre, and his musicality ensured that he 
     was held in high regard by his peers.  

     He worked with Pete Fountain in New Orleans from 1967-69, and spent four years in Las 
     Vegas with singer Phil Harris from 1969. He was a golf professional for a time in the early 
     1970s, but continued to play in and around Los Angeles. He made occasional tours further 
     afield, including jaunts to the Far East (in 1964) and Europe (1981) with band leader Bob 
     Crosby, the brother of Bing Crosby, and to Europe with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band in 
     the 1980s. 

     He is survived by his wife, Mary; a son, David; a brother, Ernest; and a grandson. 
  

          Kenny Mathieson 
          Kenny Mathieson is a freelance writer based in Scotland. His book Giant 
          Steps: Bebop and The Creators of Modern Jazz (1999) is published by 
          Payback Press. 

          E-mail: kenmat@dircon.co.uk

    
  
 
NY TIMES
             
Nick Fatool, Drummer Who Kept the Beat for Swing-Era Bands, Dies at 85
                Nick Fatool, a swing-era drummer who played with many of the 
                most popular big bands in the 1940's and 50's, died on Sept. 26 in 
                Los Angeles. He was 85 and lived in Los Angeles. 

                Mr. Fatool may be best known for his participation in the Benny 
                Goodman Sextet sessions of the late 1930's and early 40's, which 
                included the guitarist Charlie Christian and produced songs like "Rose 
                Room" and "Seven Come Eleven." 

                He also played in Goodman's band in the famous "Spirituals to Swing" 
                concert in 1939. 

                In his early career he exemplified the rhythms of the later swing era: crisp 
                accompaniment on the high-hat and a steady, driving four-beat pattern on 
                the bass drum. 

                Born in Millbury, Mass., Mr. Fatool began his career in Providence, R.I., 
                and after moving between cities in the mid-30's came to Cleveland to join 
                Benny Goodman, replacing Lionel Hampton in the rhythm section. 

                After leaving Goodman in the early 40's, he toured and recorded with 
                Artie Shaw, Claude Thornhill and Alvino Rey, among others. 

                Relocating in Los Angeles in 1943, he became a studio musician, backing 
                up performers who included Harry James, Louis Armstrong and Jess 
                Stacy. 

                He can also be heard on film soundtracks, including "Pete Kelly's Blues" 
                (1955) and "The Five Pennies" (1959). 

                Mr. Fatool played sporadically in Los Angeles through the early 1980's 
                and ran a music store there. 

                He is survived by his wife, Mary; a son, David; a brother, Ernest; and a 
                grandson. 
       

 
       
 

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All-Music Guide
 
A top drummer of the 1930's and 40's, Nick Fatool was best-known for his association with Bob Crosby and dixieland settings. Oddly enough, he did not regularly work with Crosby until 1949 and he spent most of his formative years playing in swing-oriented big bands. Fatool started out playing drums in Providence, Rhode Island and then had stints with Joe Haymes in 1937 and Don Beston's band in Dallas. In 1939, after briefly working with Bobby Hackett, Fatool hit the big time by joining Benny Goodman's Orchestra. He made his recording debut with BG and also recorded with Ziggy Elman's studio bands and Lionel Hampton (1940). Fatool was the drummer with quite a few major big bands including Artie Shaw (1940-41), Claude Thornhill, Les Brown, Jan Savitt and Alvino Rey (1942-43). He moved to Los Angeles in 1943, became a studio musician and from then on recorded extensively and performed in a variety of settings, many of which were dixieland-oriented.  Among his countless number of associations were Harry James, Erroll Garner (1946), Louis Armstrong (in 1949 and 1951), Jess Stacy, Tommy Dorsey, Matty Matlock's many recordings in the 1950's, Glen Gray's nostalgic big band projects, such soundtracks as Pete Kelly's Blues and The Five Pennies, and most importantly Bob Crosby. He was with Crosby during much of 1949-51 and on and off with Crosby's Bobcats (in the spot formerly occupied by Ray Bauduc) during the next three decades. Fatool also appeared at many all-star dixieland concerts of the 1950's and played fairly regularly with Pete Fountain (1962-65) and the Dukes Of Dixieland. In 1987 Nick Fatool finally had his one and only chance to lead a recording date, a septet jam that also included Eddie Miller, Johnny Mince and Ernie Carson. That music, plus a quintet outing headed by Bud Freeman from 1982, have been combined on the Jazzology CD Nick Fatool's Jazz Band & Quartet. -- Scott Yanow
 
 
  
 
 

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