At a showcase of "Shades of Harlem" a musical last fall in upper Manhattan's Harlem an original Cotton Club gal was announced as "being in the movie 'Stormy Weather' - Jaunita Boisseau, age 91!" After the performance Jaunita (you should see her gorgeous complection now and imagine what she must have looked like to those Harlem men 50 years ago) I asked if she knew guitarist Al Casey when he played with Fats Waller? She replied to my surprise, "I put Fats on the train (in 1943), he said he wanted to get home to New York for some home cookin'," and added, "I was also in the line in a Fats movie short ("Ain't Misbehavin'"- 1941 Soundie), one of the Jones sisters, I was sittin' on the piano."
That was 60 years ago last December 15th and what a sad day it was for Jazz, Humor and Stride piano as you will come to understand from the musicians who have carried on Fats' musical tradition. My first priority was interviewing musicians who played with Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller or saw him perform, followed by pianists who currently play Fats music with reverence.
Al Casey told me that soon after that December 1943 day he was at home when he heard about Fats passing from the family. Was Fats ever ill? "Never heard him complain before, just ordinary pains. We heard he had a ball out there in the movies . . . . It was a shock!"
On May 2 - 8, 2004 the Tribeca Film Festival premiered "The Last Of The First" to sold out audiences in downtown Manhattan. Guitarist Al Casey, the last of "Fats Waller and His Rhythm", still alive at age 87 is featured with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band. Included in this Jazz Documentary Film is footage of Casey playing Ain't Misbehavin' behind Fats in that same Soundie filmed in 1941. We expect that you will be able to see it in your local movie theater next year.
I've had the pleasure of knowing "Casey" (as he is called by jazz cognoscente) for some years and arranged for the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, a jazz ensemble made up of surviving members of many famous jazz bands and orchestras, to perform the music of Louis Armstrong at Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall on June 3, 2000 at the request of conductor Yuriy Saulskiy in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Jazz Ambassador Louis Armstrong's birth. Guitarist Al Casey had performed and recorded with Armstrong as recipient of the 1944-45 Esquire Gold Award and at Carnegie Hall.
For a video clip of this event go to: www.tva.ru
Fats recorded 400 sides (1934-1942)with Casey including Al's tunes "Pantin' At The Panther Room" and "Buck Jumpin'". Casey can be heard soloing on The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band - From Past To Present, a Barron CD VOCA408-Vol 2 recorded by Dr. Al Vollmer available from Cadence/NorthCountry distributors or JazzPhone (866) 411-JASS.
In 2001 Bruce Gast hosted: "Jumpin' With Al Casey" at the Bickford Theater in Morristown, NJ. Humorous stride pianist Peter Sokolow, who pulled off a delightful imitation of the famous Fats Waller, co-starred with Casey and rhythm players Shelton Gary - drums and Alex Layne - string bass. In the second half I got a chance to play some swing-jazz clarinet with these great musicians.
Billy Taylor Remembers Thomas "Fats" Waller
At the International Association of Jazz Educators Convention publicist Arnold Jay Smith arranged a private interview with pianist educator Billy Taylor on January 24, 2004:
Dan Kassell: Well I want to thank you in advance for joining me this morning.
Billy Taylor: My pleasure, Dan. Well, you know, Fats Waller is a special man. He was my first big influence. My Uncle Bob was a big Fats Waller and Willie the Lion fan, you know. And he laid that on me that was the way he played, because those were the group of guys that he liked. But I kept bugging him about teaching me. Three quarters all my father's brothers were musicians. I kept bugging him saying "I want to do that." And he said "Oh, no, you go study the music and make sure you got piano lessons and everything".
DK: What age were you then?
BT: I was what? Seven. Six or seven, somethin' like that. And he said "I want you to listen to this guy." Fats Waller was accessible. And I said "Man, this guy was you know like in theories, curly notes and hearing the kinds of things that really . . . it was so cleanly played, and so rhythmically, and it had elements that were much more appealing to me than any other music that I was hearing at that time as a kid. You know, and I'm not talking about his singing.
Everybody, you know . . . he's famous as a singer. And of course that was what I heard a lot of because he was so famous, but I'm always listening, you know, when he'd stop singin' and somethin' else was goin' on and I'd say "Oh, man, that was gorgeous!" So Waller was highly placed in my head at that time. That was something that I said "Gee, I just want to do that. Cuz' this is so gorgeous."
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