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Squeeze Me (1925)

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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CD Recommendations for This Tune
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John Frigo

I Love John Frigo...He Swings
2004 Verve 145602
Original recording 1952
Violinist Frigo swings with a gypsy lilt on this pleasant, disharmonic reading that slows down the tempo and engages each instrument to blend imaginatively on the chorus.

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.

Ray Brown Trio

Some of My Best Friends are...Guitarists
2002 Telarc 83499
Original recording 2002
Bassist Brown kicks off the album with this bright, cheerful reading that features guitarist John Pizzarelli swinging elegantly along with the trio.

Ernie Andrews

Ernie Andrews
2001 GNP Crescendo 2274
Original recording 1969
Andrews has an earthy quality to his voice that makes every word he sings believable. Here he gives “Squeeze Me” a rhythm and blues feeling within the big band setting.

David Friesen

Three to Get Ready
2000 Summit (Classical
262) Original recording
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.
Jazz History

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
Written by the Same Composer or Team...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team. Click on a name to see all of a writer's jazz standards.

Fats Waller and Clarence Williams

1925171Squeeze Me

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