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Artist Profiles

Continuous Fats: May 21 to December 15, 2004

By Published: May 27, 2004

DK: You were telling me about Ain't Misbehavin' was actually

BT: That was really the first Fats I can remember.

DK: The first? And Jitterbug was the second. I was referencing Don Lambert because I wanted to ask you how, stylistically, the piano and the whole idea, how that began to influence you? What did you believe was unique?

BT: The left hand was the thing that was the most outstanding in the piano that I was listening to. The men like Fats Waller, especially, . . . they played 10ths and they played . . . they did all the tricks that the older musicians older than they talked about, Eubie Blake and all of them. Fats Waller had his share of tricks and he would do back-bass or he'd hit the thumb first and then the little finger. He would do . . . different kinds of things which, rhythmically, threw the pulse off, but didn't stop the pulse. You know, it was (sings the beat) dumb-doom-du-du . . . it wasn't one he's playing with his left hand. He would play two notes, you know, doom-doom . . . then doo-dumb, chord. And things like that (chuckle). And it was . . . the manner in which each one does it is so personal that, you know, you say "Oh, that's Donald," or "Oh, that's Willie the Lion," you know. (chuckle) And it's the same device, but everybody has their own take on it, you know.

DK: His whole career, obviously shortened, but your recollection as it grew from your first experience of him to December 1943 his passing, how do talk about, think about his whole career, from a musician's point of view; from a pianist's point of view, not Billy Taylor, the correspondent?

BT: Fats Waller was one of the great jazz pianists. I mean, he stands with Tatum. As a matter-of-fact, Tatum, really . . . I respected him very much. And often gave him credit, saying "That's Waller. That's where I came from." You know, cuz he had that much respect for him. And realizing that this was man who, melodically, he was a wonderful tunesmith. I mean, he just didn't make up tunes and sell 'em and do whatever he wanted to do with them. But, I mean, and he had that gift. I mean, he heard things like that. And he was a phenomenal musician. I read about him when I was younger, because, you know, if there was something in the paper about him or anything like that . . . and he was news, you know. And . . . he was in the movies . . . and he did all these things. So he was a much larger-than-life character to me. And I especially loved the kinds of things that he played because it really . . . it was so human . . . it touched such a wide range of people. I mean, with all the comedy and stuff that he would play something and it would be so beautiful. And you'd say "Oh, gee, what is that? That's lovely," you know. I mean, but he had that kind of a touch on the piano I mean, just a gorgeous touch on piano. And it really . . . I wish I could have heard him in some of those shows like the ones he did with Louis Armstrong and some of those things. Because on Broadway, that was his element, too. I mean, he and Louis used to fight it out, you know, backstage in terms of who was going to get the most applause and who was going to bring the house down first, you know. And that's . . . those are the kinds of things I wish I had been old enough to attend. With all the older guys that I think we talked about . . . "Oh, yeah, Fats was it! He cut it, man!"

Dave Brubeck Reports Traveling 40 Miles To Buy His First Jazz Record

Another delightful surprise happened after listening to Dave Brubeck play "Sunny Side of the Street" as a Jazz Masters recipient at the IAJE Convention in New York, January of this year then queried him by telephone about Fats Waller to discover:

Dave Brubeck: I never saw him in person. My first recording I ever bought was Fats Waller's "Let's Be Fair and Square in Love" and "There's Honey on the Moon Tonight." Do you remember those?

Dan Kassell: Yes.

DB: And I wrote a piece called "Mr. Fats," which I've recorded.

DB: And the only other story that I can tell you is I was working with Cleo Brown. Do you remember her?

DK: No, I don't.

DB: Well, if you want to hear her, Decca in 1945 put out recordings by Cleo Brown. When Fats died, the members of the band wanted Cleo to take Fats' place.

DB: And that's the only association I can give you.

Well, now we know why Dave Brubeck has instilled his music with swing and joy.

All Piano players and vocalists are invited to play a Fats Waller tune until December this year.

Fats Facts

Paul Blair, New York's Jazz Tour Guide reports "Fats was born at 107 West 134th Street next to Elementary School PS 89 and a few blocks away is the Lafayette Theater next to Connie's Inn at 131st Street and Seventh Avenue" where he introduced "Honeysuckle Rose".

The Queens Jazz Trail lists 173-19 Sayres Avenue, St. Albans (also called Addisleigh Park) as Mr. Waller's home. The web site actually headlines "Lookin' For Fats"? And includes a photo of his home little changed from the early 40's.

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