One of the 20th centurys most colourful and charismatic performers, Fats Waller is still instantly recognised and admired by those who may not otherwise be jazz enthusiasts. Bursting with joie de vivre, his uninhibited playing brought jazz down from its ivory tower to a wider fraternity and assured him pride of place in the Hall of Fame alongside such seminal figures as Armstrong, Ellington and Bechet. Although frequently accused by the purists of selling out to commercialism, this keyboard giant, vocalist, songwriter and comic showman was nothing if not a communicator. The Cheshire cat grin, the irrepressible antics, the undisguised sarcasm and self-mockery were all part of the act; they should not detract from the formidable technique and that awesome left hand.
Thomas Fats Waller was born in Waverley, New York, on 21st May,1904, and while being in the right place at the right time always has something to do with any success story, as Toms parents were both natives of Virginia he also had the South in his soul. At the time of his birth his father, Edward Martin Waller, was a preacher at the Harlem Abyssinian Baptist Church; his mother, Adeline, sang and was both a skilled pianist and church organist. As a child somewhat closeted at home, Tom sang hymns to her accompaniment at the harmonium, an instrument which, at five, he had himself mastered quite competently. As a teenager already dubbed Fats, a rotund young Thomas Waller played violin and piano in the orchestra of Public School 89. At the same time, amid pronouncements of "Devils music" from his over-zealous father, he avidly devoured the latest ragtime and the Harlem stride rhythms propounded by Willie The Lion Smith (1897-1973) and his preceptor James P. Johnson (1894-1955).
After a spell as an organist and pianist at various New York silent-movie theatres, Fats first unleashed his outgoing, larger-than-life personality upon an audience as a vaudeville pianist-entertainer during the mid-1920s. Leading a trio in Philadelphia, he also worked with Erskine Tate in Chicago and appeared and made records with the Fletcher Henderson and Ted Lewis orchestras in New York. His work as a composer which had already begun around 1922 produced an intermittent trickle of characteristic piano solos by the mid-1930s these included Vipers Drag, Handful Of Keys, African Ripples, Clothesline Ballet, E Flat Blues, Zonky, Alligator Crawl, Russian Fantasy plus several others which would remain unpublished for the duration of his lifetime. From the late 1920s he also delivered a more commercially-motivated stream of fine songs, mostly in collaboration with Spencer Williams (1889-1965), Clarence Williams (1898-1965) and Andy Razaf (1895-1973). With Razaf he contributed to the all-black revues Keep Shufflin (1928) and Hot Chocolates (1929) which, while transferring the star-turns of Connies Inn to Broadway, also gave to the world such immortal standards as Aint Misbehavin (his first hit in the US popular charts, in November 1929), My Fate Is In Your Hands and Honeysuckle Rose.
Thanks as much to the wide sales of these numbers as to his CBS radio Rhythm Club broadcasts in America and the world-wide distribution of the recordings he made for RCA Victor with a five-piece band dubbed Fats Waller & His Rhythm, by 1934 Fats was an international household name. During 1935 he appeared in two movies and, by 1936, his catalogue of further hits included (in 1934) How Can You Face Me? at No.16, Dont Let It Bother You at No.10 and Believe It, Beloved at No. 5 and (in 1935) Honeysuckle Rose at No.17 and Because Of Once Upon A Time at No.16 and was topped by no fewer than four US No.1s.
The producer of this album, David Lennick, has remarked that this entire March 1935 programme of medleys originally cut on 16" transcription discs (for the New York company of Muzak-Associated Transcriptions) was achieved by Waller in the course of a few hours! An impressive reminder of Fats musical inventiveness, while to some extent they duplicate the titles in the commercial Victor discography, the medleys show Wallers playing from a more-than-usually sustained, predominantly solo piano perspective. Whereas he has interpolated a few time-honoured Tin Pan Alley standards (Al Jolsons California, Here I Come and Leo Woods Somebody Stole My Gal provide useful linkingtunes but they are essentially non-Waller territory), he also sheds new light on some of his own more familiar compositions, including Ive Got A Feelin Im Fallin (1929) and Blue Turning Grey Over You (1930).
Peter Dempsey, 2001
1. BABY BROWN (Alex Hill) With Rudy Powell, clarinet 1:24
VIPERS DRAG (Waller) 2:23
HOW CAN YOU FACE ME (RazafWaller) Fats Waller, vocal 1:50
A tenor singer of wide range and performing experience, Pe ter Dempsey specialises in Victorian and Edwardian genre ballads and art-song, and has recorded various CDs, including L oves Garden Of Roses for Moidart. Quite apart from his personal enthusiasm for music in the broadest sense, through his assiduous collecting and study of 78s over many years, Peter has acquired not only a wide knowledge of recorded musical performance but also a heart felt awareness of the need to conserve so many "great maste rs" who were it not for CD might now be lost for future generations. A recognised authority on old recordings, Pe ter now regularly researches and produces CD albums from 78s.
The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.
As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennicks work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, the International Piano Archives at Maryland, Syracuse University and others.
Baby Brown - Viper's Drag - How Can You Face Me - Down Home Blues(more info)