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Fats Waller by Maurice Waller & Anthony Calabrese

C. Michael Bailey By

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Fats Waller
Maurice Waller and Anthony Calabrese
256 Pages
ISBN: # 978-1-5179-0391-6
University of Minnesota Press

With regards to the jazz piano, who came before Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans. Well, it was James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith and Thomas Fats Waller. The latter of these is celebrate with the republication of Maurice Waller and Anthony Calabrese's 1977 Fats Waller (Schirmer). A significant presence in the F. Scott Fitzgerald "Jazz Age," Waller was bigger than life in a myriad of ways. The depth and breadth of his talent, his generosity, sense-of-humor, and temporal appetites, Waller was a titan, living large and flaming out just shy of 40-years old in 1943. Waller populated the "Great American Songbook" with compositions like, "Honeysuckle Rose," "Ain't Misbehavin,'" and "The Jitterbug waltz." He is reputed to have composed, "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," and pianist/raconteur Oscar Levant called him the "Black Horowitz."

Waller was born the youngest of eleven children in 1904 in New York City. A prodigy, Waller was playing professionally at 14 and recorded his first piano solos at 18-years old. He composed widely for the theater, and appeared in the ground-breaking movies King of Burlesque 1936 and Stormy Weather (1943). Constantly in demand, Waller burned the candle at both ends on his way to perishing from pneumonia on a cross-country train trip near Kansas City, Missouri, on December 15, 1943, en route to New York City from Los Angeles, where he had been celebrating the success of the recently released Stormy Weather. This bigger-than-life entertainer drew more than 4,000 people to his funeral in Harlem, over which his ashes were scatter. That is an American Story.

Fats Waller is way more memoir than biography. It is an honest and loving remembrance of a son for his father that is longer on reminiscence than academic facts, dates, and documents. Maurice Waller, with the aid of journalist Anthony Calabrese, prepared a portrait of a creative genius whose love for piano was equaled only by his huge personality and presence. Maurice Waller's account of his paternal grandmother, Adeline, is as brief and dense as it is poignant. This memoir is a slim read packed with personal memories. While it will never replace more academic biographies like Ed Kirkeby's Ain't Misbehavin': The Story Of Fats Waller (Da Capo Press, 1975) or Alyn Shipton's Jazz Life and Times: Fats Waller (Omnibus Press, 1989), it is an essential supplement to these as an eye witness account of greatness.


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