Fats Waller

Fats at the Organ

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In February of 1981, producer Kevin Daly and recording engineer Martin Haskell participated in an experiment of unprecedented historical import when they helped transpose 14 vintage Fats Waller player piano rolls onto a Compton theater organ. This remarkable feat was accomplished at the home studio of English organist Ronald Curtis at Darcy Lever, a suburb of Bolton in Greater Manchester. This particular organ, which originally resided in Liverpool's Paramount Theatre, was modified by the addition of numerous extra pipes from other less fortunate Comptons and a "Tibia Rank" from a Wurlitzer. The transposition was a very complicated procedure, not least because the organ has only 61 notes in its keyboard and the player piano has 88. Furthermore, although the Compton organ obviously "breathes" to some extent, the instrument itself is electrically driven while the action on a player piano is pneumatic. In preparation for this session, Curtis is said to have spent weeks analyzing all of Waller's pipe organ recordings made in the Trinity Church Studio in Camden, NJ, from 1926 to 1929. He also studied Waller's Compton organ recordings made at the H.M.V. studios in 1938. The results are delightful. Anyone familiar with Waller's piano rolls will thrill to hear them played back in this manner. These "organ rolls" also complement Waller's organ recordings made between the years 1926 and 1943. As Daly points out in the original liner notes, here is a close approximation of what young Thomas Waller sounded like when he played the organ in Harlem's movie houses during the 1920s.

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