“Afternoon of a Moax” (1940) Charlie Barnet

“Afternoon of a Moax”

(“Shake, Rattle and Roll”)

Composed and arranged by Charlie Barnet.

Recorded by Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra for RCA-Bluebird on April 16, 1940 in New York.

Charles D. “Charlie” Barnet, tenor saxophone, directing: John Owens, first trumpet; Bob Burnet, Lyman Vunk and Billy May, trumpets; Claude Murphy, Bill Robertson and Don Ruppersburg, trombones; Lloyd “Skip” Martin, first alto saxophone; Gene Kinsey, alto saxophone; Kurt Bloom, tenor saxophone; James Lamare, baritone saxophone; Bill Miller, piano; Anthony “Bus” Etri, guitar; Phil Stephens, bass; Clifford “Cliff” Leeman, drums.

The story:

One of the most beautiful compositions in western music is Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, known in English as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. It is a symphonic poem for orchestra composed by Claude Debussy, and is approximately 10 minutes in duration. It was composed in 1894 and first performed in Paris on December 22, 1894.

In the 1930s, the music of Debussy was still regarded as avant-garde, and far less known to the general public than it is today. Musicians however were fascinated by Debussy’s innovations in the realms of harmony and rhythm, and in the overall musical moods Debussy was able to cast. Jazz musicians in particular studied Debussy’s music, but at least during the swing era, were more inclined to use his moods and melodies, rather than his harmonies and rhythms. This changed after the swing era, and jazz musicians employed many more of Debussy’s musical devices in both their playing (1) and certainly in the writing of the more advanced arrangers.(2)

Charlie Barnet was well-known during the swing era as a bandleader and saxophonist. Few people knew that he was also a very capable arranger. But like most bandleaders who could arrange, Barnet found less time to arrange as his bands became more successful. In this Barnet composition and arrangement, we find his inspiration to be in the title of Debussy’s masterpiece, not in its music. Particularly evident is Barnet’s off-beat sense of humor, which was a constant factor in how he operated his bands, and his life.

The word “Moax” is one that had sprung from CB’s fertile imagination sometime in early 1940. Barnet, who enjoyed giving facetious stories to the press, planted (or had planted) this item in the International Musician (the musicians’ union paper) in June of 1940: “Charlie ‘Cherokee’ Barnet has just recorded ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ for Bluebird. He thought up that title after watching a negro porter who had a way with the spotted cubes. Later, however, the name of this release was changed to ‘Afternoon of a Moax,’ since the first title had to be explained. In case you don’t understand the second version, a ‘moax’ is a ‘gleep,’ or in the collegiate circles a ‘weemus,’ or even a ‘wier.”  This should explain the meaning of the word “moax” completely.

If ever the words “wine, women and song” applied to anyone, they applied to Charlie Barnet. His devotion to having a good time was legendary, even by the outsized standards of the bands of the swing era. The Barnet bands of the 1930s and 1940s were always a mixture of the crazy traveling band subculture of that time, and Animal House, and Charlie was always the partier-in-chief. Although no heavy drugs were involved in the merry-making (at least until the late 1940s, and Charlie never indulged), marijuana was ubiquitous.

Curiously, the Barnet band worked as hard as it played, again with Charlie himself setting the pace. When it was time to work, he was remarkably focused on getting the best musical performances possible out of his bands, even though he frequently did so through the haze of a major hangover. (Partier-in-chief Charlie Barnet, above left.)

In August of 1941, the Barnet band was in Hollywood, working and having fun.They were working at a place called Casa Manana in the Culver City area of Los Angeles. Also in town was Duke Ellington, Charlie’s idol and major musical inspiration, appearing in the revue Jump for Joy, then running at the Mayan Theater. In order to give the Ellington band an opportunity to play some jazz away from the regimentation of Jump for Joy, Barnet invited Duke and his band to come to the Casa Manana for a friendly battle of music after the performance of Jump for Joy on August 20. This happened, causing a sensation. Charlie was elated. (At right: Charlie Barnet with his pet chimpanzee Herman.) He told everyone in both bands that he was throwing a party the next night, and that they all were invited. The party was a great success, though Charlie didn’t go “because I had a girl who didn’t need any party.”(1) Everyone left the party around dawn, feeling happy.

On the way home, Lloyd Hundling, a fill-in trumpeter in the Barnet band and member of Quintones singing group, and Barnet’s guitarist Bus Etri were riding together, with Hundling driving. Hundling drove through a stop sign and collided with a truck loaded with workmen. Etri was killed instantly and Hundling was seriously injured. In the August 27, 1941 issue of Variety was this headline: Barnet Musician Killed, Singer Hurt in L.A. Car Crash, Marijuana Found. The next day Lloyd Hundling died. (At left: Bus Etri and Barnet drummer Cliff Leeman – 1941.)

The music: “Afternoon of a Moax” opens with a soulful four bar introduction played by Bus Etri on his electric guitar over a relaxed two/four background. Etri, along with Charlie Christian, was one of the pioneers in the use of the electric guitar, and he had a unique sound on the instrument. His death at age 24 was another tragic loss of a promising talent.

The funky, simple main melody is presented by the saxophones against oo-ah brass. This eight-bar sequence, which is the “A” part of the AABA 32 bar first chorus, reveals arranger Charlie Barnet’s admiration of the musical methods of Duke Ellington. The trumpeters are doing their oo-ah thing by manipulating plunger cups in front of the bells of their instrument, which have been muted by the use of a pixie straight mute.The bridge, or “B” part of the 32 bar chorus, is played by the three open trombones, which provide a sonic contrast. Then the saxophones and brass return as before for eight bars to complete the first chorus.

There follows a descending modulation spotting the plunger muted trumpets and open trombones in their low register which leads into Barnet’s mellow tenor saxophone jazz solo. He plays for sixteen bars backed by the richly voiced saxophones and those low register open trombones, then is spelled by a nicely arranged bridge sequence featuring the saxophones, after which he finishes the chorus, this time against a background of open trombones and trumpets.

The next chorus starts with lively and dynamically louder interplay between the sections before pianist Bill Miller plays an effective eight bar solo. (At right: pianist Bill Miller.) (2) Notice how drummer Cliff Leeman uses his closed high-hat cymbals behind Miller.

The finale consists of a reprise of the reeds and oo-ah trumpets, with a dash of those open low trombones, this time augmented by Jimmy Lamare’s baritone saxophone, yet another Dukish touch.

Barnet clearly knew what he was doing as an arranger. Bravo Barnet!

Post script: Within the last month, I have had my own afternoon of a fawn (really, morning, afternoon and evening of a fawn) experience here at the world headquarters of swingandbeyond.com. As I get up each morning, I open the blinds on my bedroom windows and look out at my back yard, which is a gentle hillside with a stand of trees on top of it. Although I do not live in the country, I am constantly amazed by the amount and variety of wildlife that pass through my back yard. Starting this past January, I noticed four female deer furtively walking near the wooded part of my yard once every couple of weeks. Then, one night, as I was closing my bedroom blinds before retiring, I saw them moving about in the lower part of my yard, nearer to my house. I would also see one or more of these deer on occasion as I took morning walks near my home.

On the morning of the afternoon of a fawn, I opened the blinds and immediately saw a brown bundle in the grass in my back yard, about fifty feet from my house. The bundle was quite still, but large enough that I could see it was not a wad of paper or cardboard. Looking at this bundle, even with my glasses on, I simply could not make out what it was. I then took my binoculars out and looked much more closely at the bundle. It had large ears, and began to move a bit. I kept watching it. Finally, a head appeared from the grass, with large brown eyes. After a good fifteen minutes of study, I concluded that this brown bundle in my back yard was a newborn deer.

Why was it in my back yard? Where was its mother? These and other questions circulated through my mind as I went about my morning routine. Periodically, I would look out at the fawn, and see it in exactly the same place as it had been. It did not move one inch from where it was lying, though occasionally it would move its head slightly. Just before noon, I went out into my back yard for a closer look. I took four photos of the fawn. It was completely unafraid of me, or seemingly of anything else, including lawn mowers operating nearby. I began to worry that the fawn had no food or water, and that a dog, cat or hawk might come upon it. 

The afternoon, which was sunny and warm, stretched on. The fawn, only slightly more animated, never moved from where it lay. I continued to worry about it. Hours passed. At about 8:30 p.m. the fawn was still in exactly the same place it had been all day. My worries reached a crescendo as dusk fell and darkness came. I thought that unless the fawn’s mother came back for it soon, it would not live through the night. I closed the blinds and hoped for the best but feared the worst.

Before I retired, I looked out the window of my bedroom into the darkness of my back yard. My eyes were pulled to the spot about fifty feet from my house where the brown bundle had laid all day. It appeared that the fawn was gone, but it was really too dark for me to know for sure. The next morning, I got up and quickly opened the blinds. The fawn was gone. As soon as possible, I went into my back yard to check the spot where the fawn had laid for evidence of predation. I found none. Mother Nature had once again worked successfully without the assistance of humanity. I was happy.

So in case you ever wonder where I get the inspiration for the posts that you find here at swingandbeyond.com, now you will know. The afternoon of a fawn leads to The Afternoon of a Faun which leads to “The Afternoon of a Moax.”

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and Links:

(1) Jazz pianist Bill Evans found much inspiration in the music of Debussy. Here is an example: https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/06/24/reflections-in-d-1953-duke-ellington-and-1978-bill-evans/

(2) Here are some links to the music of Billy Strayhorn and Gil Evans, both of whom loved Debussy (and Maurice Ravel’s) music: 

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/02/11/chelsea-bridge-billy-and-billy-strayhorn-and-may/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/11/17/u-m-m-g-1960-music-of-billy-strayhorn-dizzy-gillespie-with-clare-fischer/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/04/05/something-to-live-for-1965-ella-fitzgerald-with-duke-ellington-1939-duke-ellington-1975-tommy-flanagan/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/03/10/lush-life-1956-sarah-vaughan/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/04/06/the-happy-stranger-1947-claude-thornhill-dutch-jazz-orchestra-2006/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/05/03/arab-dance-1946-and-la-paloma-1947-claude-thornhill-and-gil-evans/

(3) Starting in 1951, Bill Miller was Frank Sinatra’s personal pianist for the next 40+ years.

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2 Comments

  1. I was glad to find you discussing Bus Etri, who opens this swinging side, in some detail. He’s easily in my Top Three among big band guitarists, along with Allan Reuss and Freddie Green. I feel very strongly that he would have been a major presence in jazz guitar if he had lived longer. As both a member of Charlie’s fine and distinctive rhythm section and a soloist, he was a superb musician. Speaking of the unmistakable Barnet rhythm, I’ve always felt that Cliff Leeman was at his best with this band; to me, he made a huge contribution to Barnet’s sound in a way he hadn’t with Shaw, despite his appearance on the side that launched that orchestra into the stratosphere, “Begin The Beguine.” “Afternoon Of A Moax,” one of several esoterically or enigmatically titled Barnet pieces, has many of the characteristics I admire most in this band — rocking rhythm, prominence of the muscular trombone section, interesting writing for the reeds and a spot for Bus. … As a nature lover, I was pleased to learn of the inspiration behind this post, that little fawn.

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