Continuous Fats: May 21 to December 15, 2004
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?
BT: The first thing I remember of his . . . was I fell in love with "Jitterbug Waltz." I love that, it was so melodic and such a great piece. But prior to that I had heard him create his "Ain't Misbehavin'" and I . . . man, that was one of the things that I had learned how to play that. It was a good tune and it had that, you know . . . My uncle played it . . . a stride piano version of it, and that was good (chuckle).
DK: When I was at Drew University, The first pianist I went to see was Don Lambert.
BT: Oh, yeah. Really? Oh, he was a monster man. He could play!
DK: . . . comparing other pianists to his ability to play time, and the structure of tunes and to throw in all of this classical music . . . and to just assimilate styles, and make a show out of the single piano piece, extemporaneously. Because at the High Tavern in Orange, New Jersey he would simply play from his time period and whoever came in and said something, it would become a part of what it was . . . and when nobody was paying attention, he would doodle on his own . . . and when . . . somebody was watching him that he knew, he would move into a tune that was their favorite in recognition of like hello. How did you experience Fats Waller's music in that way, and take it into your style?
BT: Before we talk about Fats Waller though, Donald Lambert . . . I met him I didn't even know who he was . . . he came to the table, some friends of Tatum brought him over and sic'd him on our table. And I said "Man, you guys must be kidding."