WALLER, Fats: Transcriptions

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FATS WALLER The 1935 Transcriptions

One of the 20th century’s most colourful and charismatic performers, Fats Waller is still instantly recognised and admired by those who may not otherwise be jazz enthusiasts. Bursting with joie de vivre, his uninhibited playing brought jazz down from its ivory tower to a wider fraternity and assured him pride of place in the Hall of Fame alongside such seminal figures as Armstrong, Ellington and Bechet. Although frequently accused by the purists of selling out to commercialism, this keyboard giant, vocalist, songwriter and comic showman was nothing if not a communicator. The Cheshire cat grin, the irrepressible antics, the undisguised sarcasm and self-mockery were all part of the act; they should not detract from the formidable technique and that awesome left hand.

Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller was born in Waverley, New York, on 21st May,1904, and while being in the right place at the right time always has something to do with any success story, as Tom’s parents were both natives of Virginia he also had ‘the South in his soul’. At the time of his birth his father, Edward Martin Waller, was a preacher at the Harlem Abyssinian Baptist Church; his mother, Adeline, sang and was both a skilled pianist and church organist. As a child somewhat closeted at home, Tom sang hymns to her accompaniment at the harmonium, an instrument which, at five, he had himself mastered quite competently. As a teenager already dubbed ‘Fats’, a rotund young Thomas Waller played violin and piano in the orchestra of Public School 89. At the same time, amid pronouncements of \Devil’s music" from his over-zealous father, he avidly devoured the latest ragtime and the Harlem stride rhythms propounded by Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith (1897-1973) and his preceptor James P. Johnson (1894-1955).

After a spell as an organist and pianist at various New York silent-movie theatres, Fats first unleashed his outgoing, larger-than-life personality upon an audience as a vaudeville pianist-entertainer during the mid-1920s. Leading a trio in Philadelphia, he also worked with Erskine Tate in Chicago and appeared and made records with the Fletcher Henderson and Ted Lewis orchestras in New York. His work as a composer which had already begun around 1922 produced an intermittent trickle of characteristic piano solos – by the mid-1930s these included Viper’s Drag, Handful Of Keys, African Ripples, Clothesline Ballet, E Flat Blues, Zonky, Alligator Crawl, Russian Fantasy plus several others which would remain unpublished for the duration of his lifetime. From the late 1920s he also delivered a more commercially-motivated stream of fine songs, mostly in collaboration with Spencer Williams (1889-1965), Clarence Williams (1898-1965) and Andy Razaf (1895-1973). With Razaf he contributed to the all-black revues Keep Shufflin’ (1928) and Hot Chocolates (1929) which, while transferring the star-turns of Connie’s Inn to Broadway, also gave to the world such immortal standards as Ain’t Misbehavin’ (his first hit in the US popular charts, in November 1929), My Fate Is In Your Hands and Honeysuckle Rose.

Thanks as much to the wide sales of these numbers as to his CBS radio ‘Rhythm Club’ broadcasts in America and the world-wide distribution of the recordings he made for RCA Victor with a five-piece band dubbed ‘Fats Waller & His Rhythm’, by 1934 Fats was an international household name. During 1935 he appeared in two movies and, by 1936, his catalogue of further hits included (in 1934) How Can You Face Me? at No.16, Don’t Let It Bother You at No.10 and Believe It, Beloved at No. 5 and (in 1935) Honeysuckle Rose at No.17 and Because Of Once Upon A Time at No.16 and was topped by no fewer than four US No.1s.

The producer of this album, David Lennick, has remarked that this entire March 1935 programme of medleys originally cut on 16" transcription discs (for the New York company of Muzak-Associated Transcriptions) was achieved by Waller in the course of a few hours! An impressive reminder of Fats’ musical inventiveness, while to some extent they duplicate the titles in the commercial Victor discography, the medleys show Waller’s playing from a more-than-usually sustained, predominantly solo piano perspective. Whereas he has interpolated a few time-honoured Tin Pan Alley standards (Al Jolson’s California, Here I Come and Leo Wood’s Somebody Stole My Gal provide useful linkingtunes but they are essentially non-Waller territory), he also sheds new light on some of his own more familiar compositions, including I’ve Got A Feelin’ I’m Fallin’ (1929) and Blue Turning Grey Over You (1930).

Peter Dempsey, 2001

1. BABY BROWN (Alex Hill) With Rudy Powell, clarinet 1:24

VIPER’S DRAG (Waller) 2:23

HOW CAN YOU FACE ME (Razaf–Waller) Fats Waller, vocal 1:50

DOWN HOME BLUES (Tom Delaney) 1:58

(mx A-265) Medley total 7:35

2. DINAH (Lewis–Young–Akst) Fats Waller, vocal, with Rudy Powell, alto sax 1:54

HANDFUL OF KEYS (Waller) 1:41

SOLITUDE (Ellington) With Rudy Powell, alto sax 3:04

(mx A-266) Medley total 6:39

3. I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (Frank Galbreath) Fats Waller, vocal 2:11

TEA FOR TWO (Caesar–Youmans) 3:08

BELIEVE IT, BELOVED (Johnson–Whiting–Burton) Fats Waller, vocal 2:05

(mx A-267) Medley total 7:24

4. SWEET SUE, JUST YOU (Young–Harris) 2:02

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAME (Leo Wood) Fats Waller, vocal 2:24

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (Razaf–Waller) 2:01

(mx A-268) Medley total 7:27

5. NIGHT WIND (Rothberg–Pollock) Fats Waller, vocal 3:10


BECAUSE OF ONCE UPON A TIME (Young–Stride–Maltin) 1:37

(mx A-269) Medley total 6:58


Fats Waller, vocal 1:55


DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU (Gordon–Revel) Fats Waller, vocal 1:23

(mx A-270) Medley total 5:51

7. FATS WALLER’S ORIGINAL E FLAT BLUES (Waller) (mx A-271) 2:27

8. ALLIGATOR CRAWL (Waller) (mx A-271) 2:14

120577bk Fats 3+3 4/6/01 11:42 am Page 1

9. ZONKY (Waller) (mx A-271) 1:41

10. HALLELUJAH (Youmans–Robin–Grey) 2:08

DO ME A FAVOR (Tinturin) Fats Waller, vocal 1:48

CALIFORNIA HERE I COME (Meyer–Jolson–deSylva) 2:30

(mx A-272) Medley total 6:26

11. I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLIN’ (Rose–Link–Waller) 2:52

MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS (Razaf–Waller) 0:53

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (Razaf–Waller–Brooks) Fats Waller, vocal 2:34

(mx A-273) Medley total 6:19

12. YOU’RE THE TOP (Porter) 2:24



(mx A-274) Medley total 5:55

Fats Waller,
Disc: 1
Medley: You're The Top; Blue Turning Grey Over You
1 Baby Brown - Viper's Drag - How Can You Face Me -
2 Dinah - Handful Of Keys - Solitude
3 I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby - Tea For Two - Believe It
4 Sweet Sue, Just You - Somebody Stole My Gal - Hone
5 Night Wind - African Ripples - Because Of Once Upo
6 Where Were You On The Night Of June The 3rd? - Clo
7 Fats Waller's Original E Flat Blues
8 Alligator Crawl
9 Zonky
10 Hallelujah - Do Me A Favor - California Here I Com
11 I've Got A Feelin' I'm Fallin' - My Fate Is In You
12 You're The Top - Blue Turning Grey Over You - Russ
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