Al Casey

Swinging guitarist with Fats Waller

Albert Aloysius Casey, guitarist and bandleader: born Louisville, Kentucky 15 September 1915; married (one son); died New York 11 September 2005.

"Is you all on, Fats?" Fats Waller would ask himself as he looked down anxiously over his shoulder for the piano stool his huge frame had just engulfed. Born in Kentucky 90 years ago today, Al Casey was a schoolboy when he moved with his grandmother to New York in 1930 and first met Fats Waller.

Two of Casey's uncles and two of his aunts, already in the city, had formed a gospel quartet called the Southern Singers, which had worked with Waller on radio programmes. They took the 14-year-old to Waller's house to play for him and Waller immediately arranged for Casey to record in his band:

Recording with him was a light-hearted business. The record people would give him all those pop tunes the other artists refused. Fats would look through the music. "OK," he'd say. "We'll try this one." Then we'd make the record. Just like that. Sometimes we cut seven or eight numbers in three hours.

He insisted that I go back to school to complete my education. But in June 1933, three weeks after graduating, I was in the bus and riding with Fats.

Casey came from a musical family and was forced to learn the violin. He hated the sound of it and as soon as he could jettisoned it for the ukulele. Once in New York he studied guitar at DeWitt Clinton High School before his uncles sent him to the Martin Smith Music School for three years.

During the first part of his career Casey played a mainly chordal style on the guitar and it was only later, after Waller's death in 1943, that he concentrated on electric guitar and the delightful single string solos that swung so much. He had such a powerful ability to swing that he had no need for complex solos and compared to other guitarists used a minimum of notes. This style can best be heard on the remarkably swinging blues feature that he recorded with Waller "Buck Jumpin' " (1941). This was a big hit at the time and Casey continued to play it regularly for the rest of his career. As far as could be judged it never lost any of its irresistible swing in later performances.

Once in Waller's band Casey stayed with the mighty pianist and alcoholic for most of the next 10 years. During that time he made more than 230 recordings with him. Waller, in an unusual display of taking responsibility, behaved to Casey like a father, and the guitarist grew up to be a quiet and gentle man, loved by everyone he met.

This was despite the fact that over the years he must have been exposed to some of the most surreal musical happenings - and not just with Waller. Casey told me, with some diffidence, of Billie Holiday's habit of sitting naked in the musicians' band room before and after being on stage. Casey worked and recorded on many occasions with Holiday and with many of the great Mainstream musicians of the Thirties and Forties - Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Edmond Hall, Benny Carter, Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Frankie Newton.

When Waller died Casey joined the trio of the pianist Clarence Profit but eventually formed his own trio with a pianist and a bassist. They worked in 52nd Street's Onyx Club for 11 months and then crossed the street for a long residency at the Down Beat. By now he was winning magazine polls for his playing. He shared billing with many of the emerging bebop musicians but resolutely avoided their influence to stay with swing, although there are signs of the new music in his solo work on the recordings by the Esquire All Stars of 1943.

Casey made a particularly successful trip to California, and appeared with Armstrong, Hawkins, Tatum, Jack Teagarden and others in a historic Esquire All-American Awards concert at New York's Metropolitan Opera House. In 1957 he joined the rhythm and blues band led by the saxophonist King Curtis, which led to much studio work.

In 1980, by then a veteran, he made a rewarding first tour of Britain with the pianist Ralph Sutton. The same year, Casey joined the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, which toured the world with success until the middle Nineties. A small band drawn from the group and led by Casey was resident at the Louisianan Community Bar and Grill from 1992 to 1997.

A 90th birthday celebration arranged for Al Casey today at St Peter's Church in New York will now become a musical memorial to the guitarist.

Steve Voce

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice