FATS WALLER / Fats Waller Mixtape
Source: Breath of Life - (BoL Mixtape - May 2, 2011)
He was a major composer of popular music. He was a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist of note. He was a concert grade pianist. But above all he was an entertainer—and that was both his blessing and his curse.
Thomas “Fats” Waller grew up the son of a preacher man, not just your average preacher man, but a noted minister at Harlem’s famed Abyssinian Baptist Church. Of course his home training and religious upbringing emphasized church liturgy. Throughout his professional career the organ remained an instrument intimately associated with his music making. In fact, he is widely renowned as the first jazz organ player.
His talents, like his personality and physique, were far larger than average. The sobriquet ‘Fats’ accurately described Waller’s appetite for the pleasures of life. Indeed, his prodigious ability to invoke pleasure was his signature on the music he chose to make.
But because people had so much fun dancing to and listening to Fats Waller, some folk did not consider him a serious artist, as if a serious person could not have an exuberant sense of humor. But while some highbrows may have low-rated Fats as a musician, notables such as the legendary Al Capone were enthralled by Waller’s artistry. Legend has it that during an engagement in Chicago Fats found himself “invited” to perform for Mr. Capone’s birthday party. The un-refusable offer is said to have resulted in an extended engagement that caroused for three days before ending. Fats ended up with hefty earnings from tips, which are reputed to have amounted to several thousand dollars.
Fats was celebrated in Europe and was one of the features on the BBC initial forays into television broadcasting. Although he recorded prolifically, Fats’ greatest popularity was a result of his Hollywood work which included a number of cameo appearances in performance in addition to his music used for scores and soundtracks.
Music poured forth from him and his songs were hits well after his death in 1943, which occurred during a train ride from the west coast heading back home to New York. He had contracted pneumonia and died just outside of Kansas City, Missouri. Fats’ good friend Louis Armstrong was also aboard the train and was inconsolable when Louis was told that Fats had died. The death of Fats Waller gave even greater poignancy to Louis Armstrong’s treatment of “What Did I Do To Be So Black And Blue,” a song authored by Fats Waller along with Waller’s major co-author and lyricist Andy Razaf.
Fats Waller was one of the few artists to achieve major popularity in three successive decades beginning in the twenties with his early hits right up to the year of his death in 1943 when he was featured on the famous movie Stormy Weather. Like his buddy Louis Armstrong, Fats was legendary for indulging in marijuana and had a major hit with his getting high song “If You’re A Viper.”
While Waller always seems to be having a ball, we should not be fooled. Impromptu asides and manic one-liners were mere sparkles on a truly impressive musical tree. Although Fats was a master of stride piano in addition to his entertainment prowess, what has stood the proverbial test of time has been his skill as a composer.
Thirty-five years after Waller’s untimely death, a revival of Waller’s famous compositions in the form of a 1978 musical won four Tony Awards. A London production was a nominee for musical of the year. A 1982 NBC broadcast won two Emmys along with an additional six nominations in various categories. A 1988 Broadway revival received a Tony nomination. That’s an impressive posthumous track record and it’s well deserved.
The Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller trademark is irrepressible joie de vivre. Think about not just his legendary breadth but also his musical depth, seldom does highly entertaining music have the serious and long-lasting impact as does the music of Thomas “Fats” Waller and for that we should be thankful. Fats Waller seriously makes us feel good.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Fats Waller Joint Jumpin’ Mixtape Playlist
On-air Sessions – 1938
01 “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ”
02 “The Joint Is Jumpin’ ”
03 “Honeysuckle Rose”
04 “Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Version 2)”
05 “You Can’t Be Mine And Somebody Else’s Too”
06 “I Got Rhythm (Version 2)”
07 “Old Folks”
08 “Some Of These Days”
09 “Yacht Club Swing (Closing Theme)”
10 “Come Down To Earth My Angel”
11 “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”
Turn On The Heat
12 “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now”
14 “Tea For Two”
15 “Carolina Shout [take 2]”
16 “Georgia On My Mind”
The Centennial Collection
17 “Medley (NBC On Air Studio Recording)”
18 “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter”
19 “Loafin’ Time”
20 “If You’re A Viper”
22 “Up Jumped You With Love”
23 “You’re Not The Only Oyster In The Stew”
24 “Lulu’s Back In Town”
25 “ ‘Taint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do”
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