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Fiddler Fascinated With the Forties

“I’m a child of the ‘40s--that’s the way it is,” said Joseph (Amp) Fiddler, half of the new brother-duo Mr. Fiddler, which blends funk and ‘40s-style jazz.

But Amp Fiddler wasn’t born in the ‘40s and neither was his bass-player brother Thomas (Bubz)--they’re just 32 and 34, respectively. Still, their highly original music reflects an unabashed affection for the ‘40s.

On such witty, bouncy songs as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Starvin’ Like Marvin,” Amp flashes a free-wheeling vocal style that pays little attention to current conventions while echoing the likes of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.

“As a kid in Detroit, I used to listen to be-bop and I saw videos from the ‘40s and I was overwhelmed,” recalled Fiddler during an interview at a Beverly Hills restaurant near the office of the duo’s label, Elektra Records. “I immersed myself in that the era. I even got a 1940 Chrysler and and 1946 Plymouth. I was wearing ‘40s clothes too.”

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That fascination with ‘40s music turned out to be the guiding light in his musical career. Fiddler, who began playing piano at 18, played mainly ‘40s-style jazz in Detroit clubs with his brother for several years. Playing keyboards in funkmeister George Clinton’s band in the mid ‘80s gave him the idea to use funk as the contemporary base for his ‘40s music.

“I was developing a style while playing with George,” Fiddler said. “I wanted to do something different, push R&B; and jazz to new limits, while at the same time playing the ‘40s music I loved so much.”

After he and his brother developed that mercurial mixture of jazz, funk and R&B;, the problem was selling it to record companies. Many labels passed on the duo before Elektra released the album earlier this year. It’s one of the year’s most inventive releases so far, but it’s proved a tough sell--no surprise to Amp Fiddler.

“It’s R&B;, but black stations haven’t played it,” he lamented. “Jazz stations don’t play it either. It’s what we expected.”

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And if Mr. Fiddler doesn’t make a commercial mark?

“I’ll go back to studying jazz to make myself a better jazz musician--playing in that old ‘40s style,” he replied. “I’d still be living in the ‘40s in some way. I’d be happy.”


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