Fats Waller

The Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2: A Handful of Keys

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The British JSP reissue label specializes in nicely affordable four-CD sets that are chronological tributes to legendary jazz musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke and Jimmie Noone. While each of these editions has proven useful, fulfilling and entertaining, Volume Two in JSP's Complete Recorded Works of Fats Waller must be regarded as a major triumph in historical jazz research and resurgence. For generations Fats Waller's music has appeared, disappeared and resurfaced in jumbled samplers and "Best Of" collections, with occasional attempts at comprehensive chronological revisitation serving to support and satiate those for whom there can never be enough Fats Waller. The RCA Vintage, Black & White and Bluebird editions of the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s each did a good job of keeping most of Waller's music available for both longtime devotees and curious newcomers, and the French have done a marvelous job with their extensive Classics chronological Waller series. Yet throughout all of this reissuing activity, the emphasis was most often upon the vast quantity of Fats Waller's Rhythm recordings made between 1934 and 1942. Waller, whose first records were waxed in 1922, was a perfect cyclone of activity during the '20s and early '30s; seldom if ever has any one label traced the path of this label-hopping soloist, accompanist, sideman and leader throughout his first decade of recording activity as has JSP with their conclusively complete Fats Waller edition.

Most important is the inclusion of every doggone session that Waller participated in between March 1, 1929 and November 7, 1934, regardless of who was billed as the leader or primary performer. This means that in addition to Waller's superb piano and pipe organ solos, his piano duets with Benny Payne, his accompaniments for vocalists Gene Austin and Monette Moore, and the amazing Fats Waller & His Buddies sessions, Waller is heard plunking the piano behind Eddie Green and the cast of the popular revue Hot Chocolates, as an active member of Jimmy Johnson & His Orchestra, and sitting in with Benny Carter, Don Redman and the Chocolate Dandies; the Mound City Blues Blowers, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, the Ted Lewis Orchestra, Billy Banks & His Rhythmakers and the Jack Teagarden Orchestra. The Teagarden sides, which have most often appeared on obscure Teagarden reissues, are fascinating examples of what Waller was up to during his lean years of only occasional recording activity between 1929 and 1934. JSP has done a terrific job of restoring these old and in some cases quite rare recordings; here at last, for example, is a clean copy of the Teagarden/Waller rendering of that immortal opus, "I Got the Ritz from the One I Love." As for Fats Waller and His Rhythm, this compilation contains the first 20 titles ever recorded by that excellent little band. Because of their freshness and spontaneity, these are among the best of all the "Rhythm" sides. The alternate takes from this part of the Waller discography were deposited on the fourth disc "to avoid excessive repetition." Highest praise goes to Ted Kendall for having done such an impeccable job of compiling and remastering these essential musical episodes from the life of Thomas Fats Waller.

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