Fats Waller was the first jazz organist. He made the first jazz organ records inside a church in Camden, New Jersey that had been converted into a recording studio by the Southern Music Company. The organ solos came out on Victor Records. They form the basis for any true appreciation of Fats Waller's music; without this dimension of his work, you're only getting your kicks from hot piano, solid ensembles and funny vocals. Waller was one of several outstanding Harlem pianists whose stylistic innovations radically altered the way popular music sounded during the 1920s and '30s. Transferring that energy onto a pneumatic church instrument was Waller's most individualistic achievement. The pipe organ jazz recordings gathered together on Classics (674) are as precious as emeralds and saffron. "St. Louis Blues" takes on a profundity that is almost startling. "Lenox Avenue Blues" allows the listener direct access to a private, personal region of the soul of a place that Charles Mingus would one day describe as the artist's "innermost sacred temple." The sessions from January and February 1927 feature the pipe organ as a vehicle for rambunctious jamming. "Soothin' Syrup Stomp" is the definitive example of this wild aspect of Waller's personality. He pounds the keys of the instrument in ways that are wonderfully startling. Legend has it that Waller wanted to call one of these original pieces the Thunder Mug Stomp, until the man in charge of recording operations figured out that the title referred to a bed pan. One can only guess which tune almost got named for that noble piece of hardware. Most likely Thunder Mug became "Rusty Pail," the stomp that features a bit of stop-time tin can percussion. On May 20, 1927 Fats Waller doubled up with Alberta Hunter, a vibrant young mezzo-soprano who sang pop, blues and jazz with equal facility. "Sugar" and "Beale Street Blues" were each rendered as pipe organ solos and as vocals with organ accompaniment. Clarence Todd's beautiful, wistfully optimistic "I'm Goin' to See My Ma" was the third duet. The second-half of the May 20 recording session involved Waller as part of a quartet bearing the name of Thomas Morris & His Seven Hot Babies. Thomas Morris' cornet and Charlie Irvis' trombone interact bracingly with Waller's rapidly alternating piano and pipe organ; presumably the two keyboards were placed in close proximity to one another. The exhilarating effect of syncopated upbeat pipe organ spiked with percussion and a pair of hot horns is a treat not to be missed! The inclusion of four piano accompaniments for vocalist Maude Mills -- relatively rare stuff -- makes this disc a collector's paradise. For most of his career Waller was almost exclusively a Victor recording artist, which makes these sides unusual by virtue of having originally appeared on Banner Records. Victoria Spivey's "Black Snake Blues" comes across well enough, but "I've Got the Joogie Blues" is the real praline of the session, a worthy dessert for this essential album of early Fats Waller.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Alberta Hunter