WALLER, Fats: Transcriptions

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The Original 1939 Associated Transcriptions

Although a few devout incense-wavers at the altar of Jazzstill carp at his humour the boisterous Fats Waller remains one of the mostpopular of all the great jazz performers, admired even by those who are nototherwise fans of such music. Seldom obtrusively virtuosic, his delivery is sofluent, so uninhibited that we tend to take his technical skill for granted -his ebullience which carries all before it has brought jazz to a widerfraternity, assuring Fats a place in the Hall of Fame along-side Armstrong,Ellington, Bechet and very few others. Individuality was his keynote anddespite accusations of commercialism, this colossal pianist, organist,vocalist, songwriter and comic never forgot that he was also an entertainer.The Cheshire cat grin, the antics, the sarcasm and self-mockery were all partof an act that never undermined the power of an awesome left hand.

Thomas 'Fats' Waller was born in Waverley, New York on 21May 1904 but as both of Tom's parents were natives of Virginia he also had theSouth in his soul. Edward Martin Waller, his father, a preacher at the HarlemAbyssinian Baptist Church hoped vainly that his son might follow in hisfootsteps; his mother, Adeline, sang and was both a skilled pianist and churchorganist. As a child Tom was close to his mother and sang hymns to heraccompaniment at the harmonium, which by the age of five he had also mastered.As a teenager already dubbed 'Fats', a rotund young Thomas Waller played violinand piano in the orchestra of Public School 89. At the same time, amidpronouncements of 'Devil's music' from his over-zealous father, he avidlydevoured the latest ragtime and the Harlem stride rhythms popularised by Willie'The Lion' Smith (1897-1973) and his own preceptor James P. Johnson(1894-1955).

After a spell as an organist and pianist at various New Yorksilent-movie theatres, during the mid-1920s Fats first unleashed his outgoing,larger-than-life personality upon an audience as a vaudevillepianist-entertainer. Leading a trio in Philadelphia, he also worked withErskine Tate in Chicago and appeared and made records with the FletcherHenderson and Ted Lewis orchestras in New York. His work as a composer whichhad already begun around 1922 produced an intermittent trickle ofcharacteristic piano solos - by the mid-1930s these included \Viper's Drag","Handful Of Keys", "African Ripples", "Clothesline Ballet", B Flat Blues,"Zonky", "Alligator Crawl", "Russian Fantasy" and several others which wouldremain unpublished for the duration of his lifetime. Although he recordedprolifically from 1922 on, he was not particularly well-known outside New York- but by 1931 radio had remedied that.

In terms of composition, from the late 1920s he alsodelivered a more commercially-inspired stream of fine songs, mostly incollaboration with Spencer Williams (1889-1965), Clarence Williams (1898-1965)and Andy Razaf (1895-1973). With Razaf as his collaborator he first found famewith the Broadway shows Keep Shufflin' (1928) and Hot Chocolates (1929) whichfirst introduced such immortal standards as Ain't Misbehavin' (his first realhit, in November 1929, this was selected for the NARAS Hall of Fame) andHoneysuckle Rose. 

Although he made no commercial recordings between March 1931and 1934, Fats gave frequent broadcasts - from early 1932 until early 1934 hehad a two-year contract with WLW in Cincinnati and from mid-1934 his ownregular CBS Monday and Thursday night venues on 'Rhythm Club', a Saturday nightorgan program and, on alternate Sundays, guest appearances on Columbia VarietyHour. Moreover, the global distribution of the recordings he made with afive-piece band dubbed  'FatsWaller & His Rhythm' (he signed an exclusive contract with Victor, in 1934)had by mid-decade placed him in the top flight of entertainers not just in theUSA but also in the international market. There was, apparently, little or norehearsal of numbers prior to our star's studio recordings - just a shortrun-through then 'in the can', with re-takes a rare occurrence.

During 1935 Fats appeared in two movies and in sales of hisrecords to the white market he outstripped all other black jazz artists. Thatyear, as an adjunct to his radio activities, and extraneous to his contractwith RCA, he began a kind of moonlighting, recording 16˝ radio transcriptionmedleys, the first pseudonymously as 'Flip Wallace' for Muzak-Associated (seeNaxos Jazz Legends 8.120577). A few other (non-Victor) sides, again captured onacetate (from the Rudy Vallee and Magic Key shows) afford glimpses of Waller in1936 but comparatively little of the 'on air' Waller remains from this heydayperiod. By 1938 he was broadcasting regularly from New York's Yacht Club andthat year, for Associated, he recorded the program here newly remastered for CDfrom the original acetates. In content the titles to some extent duplicate thecommercial Victor discography, but the piano solos - especially theresurrection from Raymond Hubbell's 1916 Big Show Poor Butterfly, the twoVincent Youmans standards and his own Handful Of Keys, apart from theirrhythmic vitality display a certain ambient quality and afford Fats greaterscope for playful asides.. 

Peter Dempsey, 2003

Disc: 1
Handful of Keys
1 The Moon is Low
2 The Sheik of Araby
3 B flat Blues
4 Honeysuckle Rose
5 Ain't Misbehavin'
6 Sweet Sue - Just You
7 Nagasaki
8 Lonesome Me
9 I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby
10 The Spider and the Fly
11 After You've Gone
12 Tea for Two
13 Poor Butterfly
14 St. Louis Blues
15 Hallelujah
16 Handful of Keys
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