Continuous Fats: May 21 to December 15, 2004
DK: In 1950, I heard, at eight years old, "Your Feet's Too Big". My parents would go to 52nd Street, hear music live, come home with these fantastic stories of the night life and would put on those 10" records and you know, it was fun; it was humorous. And as a kid, I heard the lyrics and I knew it was fun and my parents joked about big feet and it was reference-able to me, but there was something infectious about the joy he brought to the music that was easy to get.
BT: Well, that was a quality that he presented in all of . . . it's in everything he did . . . all of his playing had that quality. I mean, whether he was playing with Louis Armstrong or whether he was playing one of those shows. When I began to really listen to Fats Waller, the fun thing for me was when he did a show at the Howard Theater in Washington and he was the star. There was another pianist, who played the show, I know the guy, he was a wonderful . . . he was a fine pianist, himself. Anyway, he was playing with the band and at some point in the show they would always have this battle where the musicians would heckle him, "Oh, Fats, he's getting' you tonight." Or, "He's gonna' get you." Sayin' "You better not come out again." And all of this stuff, and putting him on. And he said "Oh, no, I got him. I got him." It's on one of the records that he did like that.
DK: Yesterday; Bill Hughes The Count Basie Band leader, you know?
DK: Made the same reference to the Howard Theater . . . seeing Fats Waller for the first time.
BT: Oh, yeah! Well, you know, this is one of those places where we went and I have another story about Waller there. Fats, he loved the Howard Theater because that was on the TOBA circuit. But actually, the first time I ever really saw him was at the Lincoln Theater, which was on U Street, all the black community went . . . . and the reason he played the Lincoln Theater was because they had an organ. And so he did a solo appearance at the Lincoln Theater and man, I was enamored, the Lincoln Theater was about 4 or 5 blocks from where I lived, and so I went in and I said I'm gonna' meet this guy, you know, this is my favorite player ( grins and chuckles) today and I want to say hello to him. Well, he was so outgoing, you know, so bigger than life man. I went backstage and it was small, you know, and this wasn't like the Howard, this was small backstage and everything. So he came right out. And when he came out, you know, I kinda stood there and said "OK." And I didn't say anything, you know, and so he walked on (chuckle). And he walked down the street, so I followed him, and he went around the front of the theater and there was a hamburger place. And he went into the hamburger place. Evidently he'd been doing this for awhile. And all the guys knew him and they were talking to him. And you know, it was the closest I could get to him, but not close enough to attract his attention. So I'm sitting there listening to him and he's telling these stories and the guys are laughing. It's like a party or somethin', you know. It was just a wonderful thing. And he must've eaten 45 hamburgers. Man, this guy was eatin' like crazy. And as soon as he was finished, the guy would bring him another hamburger.
DK: So, you're confirming the myth about Fats and all his hamburgers?
BT: No, no!
DK: You personally experienced what we only read about?
DK: And the number gets bigger and bigger every time. You said 45 but it could have been 25?
BT: No, I'm exaggerating it. . . . he ate a lot . . . . a regular-sized hamburger. And I'm thinking "Wow, this guy . . . what a life," you know (chuckle).
DK: Did you speak with him? Did you actually get to . . .
BT: No, no but when I saw him, man. I mean, I was just so in awe of him and of his music. He had a presence in person that was . . . it's the star presence, you know like, Louis had it . . .
DK: You must be experiencing that, too; most of your career.
BT: Oh, nothing like that (with a smile).
DK: Not recognition?
BT: Oh, yeah, you know I get, you know . . . I've been around a long time, so a lot of people know me and that's from television, it's from all of the stuff that I do. But this, this was different. It's sheer artistry of this man . . . transcends, that transcended anything I've ever read about him. Because he was funny, he was the kind of guy that I as a kid would love to . . . you know, I wish I were old enough to hang out with him.
DK: Wow, that's great. Yeah, you mentioned earlier piano influences from seven you started to develop your own desire. What was your beginning with Fats Waller's music?