Saturday, March 2, 2013

Big Noise from Millbury

By Chet Williamson

Drummer Nick Fatool

He should be hailed as a hometown hero. During the big band era, Millbury-born Nick Fatool played on many of the biggest hits of the day, while performing with the likes of Claude Thornhill, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw. 

Still, most folks in town ask, "Nick who?" One explanation for his lack of local notoriety is that the Fatool family left town early in the drummer's life. 

Downtown Millbury, circa 1950

Another reason is his name. In the registry of births in the Millbury town hall, Fatool's first is listed as Albert, not Nick. His father is listed as Saleem Fatool, a "dry goods dealer." His mother is Kahkab Shahmay. Both parents are listed as being from Syria and living on North Main Street

From the Great Worcester Directory, note Saleem listed as farmer

As far as Albert being changed to Nick, no history is known. It may have been a middle name that the drummer preferred. According to Who's Who in Rhode Island Jazz, Fatool was a student at Cranston High School and studied with George Ball. 

Inquiring about the drummer, Lisa Zalwadzki, the school's librarian said, "I found only one mention of Nick Fatool in the Cranston H.S. yearbooks. He is in the group shot of the band in 1931 Cranstonian. I checked multiple yearbooks both before and after this date with no luck. He doesn't seemed to have graduated from Cranston High. I also checked the Cranston newspaper for that time frame. There were lists of graduates, but his name was not among them."  

Fatool gained his first professional experience working in bands in Providence. In his memoir, First Trumpet: The Road to Broadway and Hollywood, childhood friend Max Herman, wrote about the drummer stating, “Nick Fatool was a great drummer and a good friend. He was also about the same age as Bobby Hackett, and, as youngsters, we all played together in many bands in the Providence area. Nick always had an ambition to play with Benny Goodman, and Bob Crosby was my goal." (Both musicians accomplished their objectives.)

Bobby Hackett
Author Jack Bradley wrote about Hackett’s early days in Providence. This should give you a sense of Fatool’s activity at the time: “Bobby Hackett, one of nine children, was born and raised in ProvidenceRhode Island. At an early age he played the ukulele and by the time he was twelve played guitar and violin, and had bought his first cornet. He left high school after his freshman year to take a steady job with a band that performed seven days a week at the Port Arthur -- a local Chinese restaurant. He also played guitar regularly at the Rhodes and the Arcadia ballrooms which often broadcasted on Providence radio.”

In his feature on Fatool in Modern Drummer, Bruce Klauber said, “At the age of 22, Nick decided that living in New York City was necessary for anyone serious about the music business, and once he made the move, he performed with the bands of Joe Haymes, George Hall, and Don Bestor.”

The rest is well documented rhythm history. In his book, Swing, Scott Yanow's wrote: “Fatool spent the swing era playing swinging and supportive drums for the big bands of Joe Haymes (1937), George Hall (Taft Hotel 1938). In Dallas, Texas with The Don Bestor Band (summer 1938), Benny Goodman (May 1939- July ‘40), Artie Shaw (1940-41), Claude Thornhill before Les Brown , Jan Savitt, Alvino Rey (1942-1943), and Eddie Miller (1943).

“He worked in the studios for decades but gained his greatest fame playing with Dixieland bands, mostly on the West Coast. Fatool worked with Matty Matlock, appeared at Dixieland festivals, and was part of several Bob Crosby reunion bands starting in the late 1950s. He played in New Orleans with Pete Fountain (1962-65), worked with Phil Harris and Bob Crosby in Las Vegas (1969-’73), spent the 1970s and ‘80s working in the Los Angeles area with artists such as Matty Matlock, Dick Cary, Stan Hasselgard, and Peanuts Hucko.”

To give you a sense of Fatool’s ability and style, here’s fellow percussionist Chet Falzerano's take on the Millbury-born drummer: “Nick personified for me what Benny Goodman was always looking for in the back of his head. Benny was very particular about drummers…. Fatool wasn’t a flamboyant soloist, but boy what he did in a rhythm section. It’s magic really. Benny knew it. He said, ‘This is what a drummer should sound like when he is playing in a band.’”

Falzerano is the author of Gretsch Drums: The Legacy of That Great Gretsch Sound. Continuing his notes on Fatool he said, “Fatool did the same thing in the Artie Shaw band. Everything he did was in the right place.”

Klauber echoed that sentiment: “Stylistically, Fatool wasn’t an innovator on the scale of Jo Jones or Sid Catlet, nor was he a technical marvel a la Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich – although he listened to them all and was especially inspired by Ray Bauduc. Fatool came in and did his job with a minimum of fuss. And what jobs they were.”

Fatool with Hoagy Charmichael

Film: Appeared in the film and soundtrack of Pete Kelly’s Blues (1959), The Five Pennies, and is seen with Artie Shaw in Second Chorus (1942) and The Man I Love (1946).  

Television: “The Bing Crosby Show,” and the “Pete Kelly’s Blues Television Series.

Recorded with: Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, Rosemary Clooney, Nat Cole, Charlie Christian, Jack Teagarden, Pete Fountain, Bob Crosby, and Juan Tizol, among many others.  

Select recordings include: Coast Concert with Bobby Hackett, Spirituals to Swing, “Put your Dreams Away” by Frank Sinatra, “God Bless the Child” with Billie Holiday, the Solo Flight recordings of Charlie Christian.

Only one album as a leader – Nick Fatool’s Jazz Band and Quartet (Jazzology, 1987)

Video Clips

(On camera)

Bob Haggart
“Big Noise from Winnetka” with bassist Bob Haggart

From Stars of Jazz Show, featuring Jack Teagarden

“Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” with Jack and Charlie Teagarden

“Tin Roof Blues” w/Jack Teagarden

“Sophisticated Lady” w/Eddie Miller

“I’m Goin’ South from the Pete Kelly’s Blues TV show

St. Louis Blues” w/the Bobcats

(Music only)

“Til Tom Special with Lionel Hampton

“Flying Home” w/Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian
“Zanibar” with Juan Tizol

Summit Ridge Drive” with Artie Shaw

“Button Up Your Overcoat” with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney

Ziggy Elman

“Deep Night” w/Ziggy Elman

“Yesterdays” w/Eddie Miller

“Jumpin’ at the Woodside” w/Benny Goodman

“Gone with What Wind” w/Charlie Christian

“Hungarian Dance No. 5” w/Claude Thornhill

Charlie Ventura

“Ghost of Chance” w/Charlie Ventura

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” w/Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong

New Orleans” w/Bobby Hackett


DOB: January 2, 1915 (Millbury)
DOD: September 26, 2000 (Los AngelesCA)

This is a work in progress. Send all comments to: Thank you. 


New York Times Obit

Bio on Bobby Hackett

See: Who’s Who in Rhode Island c. 1915-1998 by Lloyd S. Kaplan andd Robert E. Peterutti

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