If You Got To Ask, You Ain't Got It!
His career was short, but he left behind the kind of memories that will never fade. Fats Waller had it all: personality, keyboard talent, musical ear, and an intuitive feel for communicating with an audience. He was funny. He was unique. And yet, he was musically superior.
Waller died of pneumonia in 1943 at the age of 39. Much too young. It was the same year that Stormy Weather hit the big screen. Had he lived longer, television and the motion picture industry would have continued the trend for him. He had quite a lasting impact on the big screen.
We're fortunate to have tangible memories. Check out the way he sang a happy, up-tempo "I'm Crazy About My Baby and purposely distorted "baby as a forceful "BUH-bay and doctored the lyrics comically. Then, compare it to "Lost Love, on which Waller delivers a lovely ballad with heartfelt sincerity. He had it both ways. Whether comical or sincere, his aim was always to entertain effectively.
With a big band, Waller sang "Hold My Hand in 1938 with respect for the traditions of the Swing Era. Gene Sedric, who solos on tenor here, made a frequent musical partner for Waller in a variety of situations along with Herman Autry (trumpet), Al Casey (guitar), Cedric Wallace (bass) and Slick Jones (drums). "Ain't Misbehavin', one of Waller's timeless songs made to live forever, features Benny Carter (trumpet), Irving Ashby (guitar) and Zutty Singleton (drums). It's from the soundtrack to Stormy Weather. Others follow the Dixieland trail or the customary 2-step formula. It was music of the Swing Era.
Bluebird/Legacy's 3-CD Fats Waller collection features recordings from November 1926 to January 1943. St. Louis Blues, from an early 1926 session that features Waller on pipe organ, introduces his forceful nature. Both "'Sippi and "Thou Swell, from a 1928 session, feature pipe organ with Jabbo Smith (cornet), Garvin Bushell (reeds) and James P. Johnson (piano). What a combination. They were called the Louisiana Sugar Babes back then. And who'd have thought that a bassoon would solo in a jazz format that many years ago? Why, jazz was still in its youth.
Most of the second disc features Waller alone at the piano. His instrumental interpretations carry significant weight. Not only does he capture the rhythmic thrills brought by piano entertainment of the times, but he adds spice to just about everything that flows from the keyboard.
"Viper's Drag, from a 1937 session, makes a marked impression as Waller changes from slow and exotic to happy and fancy free within its boundaries. "Honeysuckle Rose, which features Waller on piano with Bunny Berigan (trumpet), Tommy Dorsey (trombone), Dick McDonough (guitar) and George Wettling (drums), gets down and dirty with the Dixieland stomp. Waller sings "Lulu's Back In Town with his trademark "yas, yas, yas setting the pace. "Dinah features Mezz Mezzrow in a fast-stepping romp, while "She's Tall, She's Tan, She's Terrific returns Gene Cedric to the fold.
Disc three contains some of Waller's funniest work. "Sheik of Araby, "A Good Man Is Hard To Find and "Your Feets Too Big feature plenty of the pianist's up-tempo sparks tied into his small ensemble sound.
Waller's solo piano interpretation of "Star Dust, on disc two, may be the best selection from this 3 hour 22 minute set. Few could match his talent, even fewer could match his charm, and nobody could match his unique persona.
Track listing: CD1: Fats Waller Sings And Plays Fats Waller: Honeysuckle Rose; How Can You Face Me?; The Panic Is On; Sugar Rose; I'm Crazy About My Baby; Lost Love; Our Love Was Meant To Be; The Joint Is Jumpin'; A Hopeless Love Affair; Hold My Hand; Patty Cake, Patty Cake; Honey Hush; Anita; Squeeze Me; Old Grand Dad; All That Meat And No Potatoes; Ain't Nothing To It; Bessie, Bessie, Bessie; Cash For Your Trash; You Must Be Losing Your Mind; Up Jumped You With Love; Ain't Misbehavin'.
CD2: Fats Waller, Strictly Instrumental: St. Louis Blues; 'Sippi; Thou Swell; Numb Fumblin'; Ain't Misbehavin'; Love Me Or Leave Me; Smashing Thirds; My Fate Is In Your Hands; African Ripples; Viper's Drag; Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now; Star Dust; Carolina Shout; Serenade For A Wealthy Widow; Rosetta; Functionizin'; Loungin' At The Waldorf; Blue Turnin' Grey Over You; In The Gloamin'; Mamacita; The Jitterbug Waltz; Honeysuckle Rose.
CD3: Fats Waller Sings And Plays Around With Tin Pan Alley: (I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You; You're Not The Only Oyster In The Stew; What's The Reason (I'm Not Pleasin' You); Lulu's Back In Town; I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter; Dinah; There'll Be Some Changes Made; Somebody Stole My Gal; Christopher Columbus; It's A Sin To Tell A Lie; She's Tall, She's Tan, She's Terrific; The Sheik Of Araby; Two Sleepy People; A Good Man Is Hard to Find; Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood, Mama); 'Tain't What You Do (It's The Way That You Do It); Your Feets Too Big; Darktown Strutter's Ball; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; You Run Your Mouth, I'll Run My Business; Let's Get Away From It All; 'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do.
Personnel: Thomas "Fats Waller: piano, celeste, pipe organ, electric organ, vocals; Jabbo Smith: cornet; Herman Autrey, Bunny Berigan, Benny Carter, Bill Coleman, John Hamilton, Joe Thomas, Bob Williams, Nathaniel Williams, Charlie Teagarden, Sterling Bose: trumpet; Tommy Dorsey, Herb Flemming, John Haughton, Ray Hogan, Alton Moore, Benny Morton, Floyd O'Brien, George Robinson, George Wilson: trombone; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Emmett Matthews: soprano saxophone; Pee Wee Russell: clarinet; Mezz Mezzrow, Rudy Powell: clarinet, alto saxophone; Garvin Bushell: clarinet, alto saxophone, bassoon; Lawrence Fields, George James, Dave McCrae, Jimmy Powell, Alfred Skerrit: alto saxophone; Gene Sedric, Joe Catalyne, Max Farley: clarinet, tenor saxophone; William Alsop: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Bob Carroll, Chauncey Graham, Lonnie Simmons: tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini: baritone saxophone; Gene Porter: reeds; Irving Ashby, Al Casey, Dick McDonough, Nappy Lamare, James Smith, John Smith: guitar; Hank Duncan, James P. Johnson: piano; Artie Bernstein, Slam Stewart, Billy Taylor, Charles Turner, Cedric Wallace: bass; Harry Dial: vibraphone, drums; Larry Hinton, Slick Jones, Stan King, Arnold Boling, Yank Porter, Zutty Singleton, Arthur Trappier, George Wettling: drums; Una Mae Carlisle: vocal.