Fats Waller (born Thomas Wright Waller in 1904) was precocious, musically, and began to play both the piano and the organ at an early age. Despite living only to the age of 39, he produced a wealth of jazz recordings and compositions, many of which are considered classics. Fats came of age right at threshold of the 1920's, and was thus positioned historically to participate in the flowering of the first great two decades of the Jazz Era.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Buoyant Jingles & Liquid Fats -- Waller All the Way
Waller was also something of a "novelty" performer, too, often making wise-cracks and asides during performances. This aura of silliness sometimes seems almost a self-deprecation, as if he felt he could only be accepted as something of a ham, instead of a serious composer and arranger. Waller basically has three modes: Ecstatic delight, mugging madcap, and deep blues (which can be seen in his early performances on the organ). Waller's career bridges the era between small-time "joint" gigs, and the larger audience available through recordings. His style is suited to small, intimate settings, but it's big enough to hold its own in a concert hall.
Dick Hyman has made recorded "perfected" performances of most of Waller's biggest hits, and these clarified versions--though a trifle academic--are the best contemporary interpretations, for my money. But the vintage sets, most of which are still available in later media (such as CD) give a strong sense of what a live Fats session must have been like. Waller was a boisterous man, a big eater and drinker, full of lively humor and irreverent charm, and that comes through as well.
Waller's innocent sweetness, and his sense of fun, are perfect antidotes to some of the grim, bleak, alienated sounds of Fifties and Sixties jazz. Waller died in 1943, just when Big Band Swing was at its height, at the very young age of 39. It's probably idle to imagine what he might have become, had he lived another 20 years, into the 1950's. His style seems to belong to another era. America is lucky to have had such talent in its midst. Where is this exuberance and sweetness today?