Fats Waller

1927-1929 [Classics]

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Now this will give you an idea of how versatile Thomas "Fats" Waller had to be during the late 1920s. Classics 689 must be counted among the most stylistically diverse assortments of Waller recordings ever assembled on one collection. Most people who look for Fats Waller's music want to hear "Your Feets Too Big" "Ain't Misbehavin'" or "The Joint Is Jumpin'," and would be terribly confused or put off by the first four selections on this album. These are essentially Harlem lieder elegies, composed and recorded in memory of Florence Mills, a singing actress whose sudden death stunned the Afro-American population. "Bye Bye Florence" is the prettiest of these sad melodies, and its lyrics are very moving: "Little blackbird, all your friends are grieving for you." Two of the three vocalists trill their 'r's as if aspiring to be admitted into operatic society, while Carroll C. Tate sounds a bit more natural. We should be grateful to hear these very rare recordings, which sound a lot like European art songs. On December 1, 1927 Waller made two solo pipe organ records, one hot, one blue. On that day he also sat in with Morris' Hot Babies, alternating between hot pipe organ and Harlem stride piano. "He's Gone Away" is full of pepper, "Geechee" has a great "ooh-wacka-ooh" chorus, "Please Take Me Out Of Jail" is riotous fun, and "Red Hot Dan" contains Waller's very first recorded vocal, which he agreed to perform only after being urged on by Morris. We also get to experience the only two accompaniments that Fats ever performed on record behind his lyricist Andy Razaf. The next two sessions are chamber music of the most unusual sort: as a member of Shilkret's Rhyth-melodists, Waller the pipe organist is teamed with piano, violin, harp and sweetly muffled trombone. As one quarter of an ensemble calling themselves the Louisiana Sugar Babes, Waller's pneumatic pipe organ interacts magically with James P. Johnson's piano, Jabbo Smith's cornet and Garvin Bushell's clarinet, alto sax and bassoon. As one-tenth of an ensemble backing up Gene Austin, Waller gently operates piano and celeste. Participating for the very first time as the named leader of his own hot jazz band, Fats Waller spontaneously concocts a slow drag and a hot stomp. These are two of the best three-minute records made by anybody during the 1920s. For a humorous and detailed eye-and-ear-witness account of how this session almost didn't happen, consult Eddie Condon's autobiography We Called It Music. These musicians had never worked together as a unit, and had no idea what they were going to play when they entered the recording studio. Listen to Waller's piano and you can hear him demonstrating to the band exactly what to do next. After presiding over the creation of two entirely improvised masterpieces, Waller remained seated at the piano to record "Numb Fumblin'" and "Handful of Keys." Seldom has music of this potency and enduring value been recorded in single takes with so little preparation. That's what jazz, and Fats Waller, are all about.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:08
2 3:05
3 3:27
feat: Bert Howell
5 2:40
6 3:09
7 2:55
8 3:20
9 3:04
10 2:48
11 3:24
12 3:05
13 2:44
14 2:25
15 3:27
16 3:16
17 3:05
18 3:36
19 2:49
20 2:41
21 3:23
22 2:53
feat: Gene Austin
feat: Gene Austin
blue highlight denotes track pick