Jazz at 100 Hour 18: The Entertainers – Fats Waller (1929 – 1943)

Fats Waller

By far the most commercially successful of the stride pianists, he made his reputation (and his living) through comedy. “He wasn’t witty, if that word is taken to imply a kind of humor too subtle to engender belly laughs – he was funny. He was also bigger than life, Rabelaisian in intake, energy, and output. His greatest joy was playing Bach on the organ, but he buttered his bread as a clown, complete with a mask as fixed as that of Bert Williams or Spike Jones. It consisted of a rakishly tilted derby, one size too small, and Edwardian mustache that fringed his upper lip, eyebrows as thick as paint and pliable as curtains, flirtatious eyes, a mouth alternately pursed or widened in a dimpled smile, and immense girth, draped in the expensive suits and ties of a dandy.” – Gary Giddens

Hold Tight (Want Some Sea Food, Mama). Fats Waller & His Rhythm.
(Herman Autrey-tp, Gene Sedric-cl/ts, Fats Waller-p/voc, Al Casey-g, Cedric Wallace-b, Slick Jones-d). 1/19/1939.
Christopher Columbus. Fats Waller & His Rhythm
(Herman Autrey-tp, Eugene “Honeybear” Sedric-cl/ts, Thomas “Fats” Waller-p/voc, Al Casey-g, Charles Turner-b, Yank Porter-d). 4/8/1936. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
“This performance shows Waller integrating stride piano into small-group swing, emphasizing rhythmic power – especially the cross rhythms in his dashing solo chorus.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux
Music by Chu Berry with lyrics by Andy Razaf.

Until The Real Thing Comes Along. Fats Waller & His Rhythm
(Herman Autrey-tp, Eugene “Honeybear” Sedric-cl/ts, Thomas “Fats” Waller-p/voc, Al Casey-g, Charles Turner-b, “Slick” Jones-d). 8/1/1936 (The Jazz Singers)
“Waller’s 1936 version of ‘Real Thing’ decorates the maudlin melody (stated by the saxophone) with his piano’s striding, strutting arpeggios and glittering runs before his baritone voice comes in to work its rough magic. Using a combination of fake crooner’s lyricism, mock-British posturing, radio melodrama, and Harlem slang asides, Fats finds a hard kernel of truth beneath the mush of the original lyrics. His version is true to both love’s believable promises and jazz’s revitalizing impulse to inject love and lyrics with an anti-sentimental serum of good humor and bawdy fun.” – Robert O’Meally in the notes for The Jazz Singers
I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter. Fats Waller & His Rhythm
(Herman Autrey-tp, Rudy Powell-cl/as, Thomas “Fats” Waller-p/voc, Al Casey-g, Charles Turner-b, Harry Dial-d). 5/8/1935.
Your Feet’s Too Big. Fats Waller & His Rhythm
(John Hamilton-tp, Gene Sedric-cl/ts, Fats Waller-p/voc, John Smith-g, Cedric Wallace-b, Slick Jones-d). 11/3/1939.

Fats Waller Composer.
“He was, indeed, after Ellington, the most successful songwriter to emerge from the heart of jazz.” – Gary Giddens

Honeysuckle Rose. Fats Waller
Fats Waller solo (-p). 3/11/1935. (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)
After Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose is probably Waller’s most famous and most recorded piece. Like the blues, and like Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm, the chord structure of Honeysuckle Rose has served as the basis for many original jazz melodies and improvisation over the years. During his career, Waller recorded the piece no less than ten times, and it is said that he was obliged to play it at least once every evening. His irrepressible creative urge inspired him to come up with quite a variety of interpretations, some of them tongue-in-cheek. This solo version is from a 1935 studio recording made for use on the radio. It is so perfectly played that it sounds as if the general approach and treatment were carefully worked out.” – Dick Katz from the notes for Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano
Smashing Thirds. Fats Waller
Fats Waller solo (-p). 9/24/1929.

Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now. Fats Waller
Fats Waller solo (-p). 6/11/1937. (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)
Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now is one of Waller’s most celebrated solo recordings… He approached it with none of the flippant, though delightful, comedy that characterized most of his recordings, but with a seriousness that still did not belie his natural sense of humor.”
Viper’s Drag. Fats Waller
Fats Waller solo (-p). 11/16/1934
“On ‘Viper’s Drag,’ Waller toys with the contrast between an ominous dark opening theme in a minor key and a swinging major mode section – a devise Ellington used frequently during this same period in crafting his own version of Harlem jazz.” – Ted Gioia

Honeysuckle Rose. Fats Waller and his Rhythm
(Bill Coleman-tp, Gene Sedric-cl/ts, Fats Waller-p/voc, Al Casey-g, Billy Taylor-b, Harry Dial-d). 11/7/1934.
Squeeze Me.   Fats Waller & His Rhythm
(John Hamilton-tp, Gene Sedric-cl/ts, Fats Waller-p/voc, John Smith-g, Cedric Wallace-b, Slick Jones-d). 8/10/1939.
The Jitterbug Waltz. Fats Waller, His Rhythm and His Orchestra
(“Bugs” Hamilton, Joe Thomas, Nathaniel Williams, George Wilson, Herb Fleming, George James, Lawrence Fields, Eugene Sedric, Bob Carrol, Thomas “Fats” Waller, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Arthur Trappier). 3/16/1942.
Ain’t Misbehavin’.  Fats Waller & His Rhythm
(Benny Carter-tp, Alton Moore-tb, Gene Porter-reeds, Thomas “Fats” Waller-p/voc, Irving Ashby-g, Slam Stewart-b, Zutty Singleton-d). 1/12/1943.

The Joint Is Jumpin’.   Fats Waller & His Rhythm
(Herman Autrey-tp, Eugene “Honeybear” Sedric-cl/ts, Thomas “Fats” Waller-p/cel/voc, Al Casey-g, Charles Turner-b, “Slick” Jones-d). 10/07/1937.

Carolina Shout. Fats Waller
Fats Waller solo (-p). 5/13/1941. (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)
Carolina Shout, composed by James P. Johnson, is a pianistic impression of a ring shout, an old country dance, originally a kind of religious dance, of southern blacks. The work’s sectional form, like most of the stride pieces of the era, grew out of composition practices of ragtime, but Johnson expanded the ragtime idiom, making it much more complex melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically. First recorded by Johnson in 1921, Carolina Shout became the test piece for all aspiring young jazz pianists at that time, including talents like Ellington, Waller, and even Basie. There are many recordings of Carolina Shout, but Waller’s version is a favorite, particularly among pianists, for several reasons, not the least of which is its irresistible swing.” – Dick Katz from the notes for Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano

Fats Waller, recording with his sextet – “His Rhythm,” was not the only jazz artist using a small group format in the 1930s, a period remembered primarily for the big bands. In the next hour, we’ll focus on the music of several exemplary soloists who also chose this smaller format – trumpeter Roy Eldridge (known as “Little Jazz”), tenor man Leon Brown “Chu” Berry, alto player Johnny Hodges (Ellington’s star soloist known as “Rabbit”) and tenor player Lester Young (nicknamed “Pres” by Billie Holiday.)

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 0391
Fats Waller: 1934 – 1935. Classics 732
Fats Waller: 1935. Classics 746
Fats Waller: 1935 Vol. 2. Classics 760
Fats Waller – I’m Gonna Sit Right Down: The Early Years, Part 2. Bluebird RCA 66640
Fats Waller – Fractious Fingering: Early Years, Part 3 (1936). RCA 66747
Fats Waller – The Middle Years, Part 1 (1936 – 1938). Bluebird RCA 66083
Fats Waller – the Middle Years, Part 2 (1938 – 1940). Bluebird RCA 7863665522
Fats Waller – Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2: A Handful of Keys. JSP CD 928
Fats Waller – Last Years (1940-43). Bluebird RCA 9883

Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“Pianists of the 1920s and 1930s” by Henry Martin
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 10. Rhythm in Transition
Giddens, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. The Oxford University Press.
Chapter 16 – Fats Waller (Comedy Tonight)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 4. Harlem
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Fats Waller: 1934 – 1935
Fats Waller: 1935
Fats Waller: 1935 Vol. 2

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