Five years before the formation of his famous "Rhythm" band, Thomas "Fats" Waller created a body of solo piano recordings that proved to be only modestly successful with the record buying public of his day. Musicians, on the other hand, have always been affected -- transformed, really -- by Waller's astonishing subtlety, that powerful sensitivity inherited directly from James P. Johnson, Luckey Roberts and Willie "The Lion" Smith. Waller's profound influence upon Art Tatum and Bud Powell can be traced directly back to the piano solos included on this album. Each three-minute performance is a world unto itself, as poetic license is held in balance by the magnetic field of Waller's dramatic gravity. There is a majestic simplicity to each turn of his phrasing, informed by everything that the pianist experienced during the first 25 years of his short life. "Love Me or Leave Me" picks up where "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling" left off. What had served as a lachrymose torch song for pop star Ruth Etting becomes in Waller's hands something more along the lines of a wistfully energetic stomp through the old neighborhood at three o'clock in the morning. Legend has it Waller's perky "Valentine Stomp" was dedicated to Hazel Valentine, proprietor of the pianist's favorite sporting house, the Daisy Chain. Irving Berlin's "Waiting at the End of the Road" is lonelier than "Love Me" but works itself up to a similar pitch of emotional intensity. "Smashing Thirds" and "Turn on the Heat" are, to use a dangerous word, masterpieces. Life simply doesn't get much better than this. Furthermore, let's always remember that Fats Waller was our first jazz organist. Most of his solo pipe organ recordings date from 1927. His 1929 solos on that instrument are less giddy than the earlier "Soothin' Syrup" and "Hog Maw" stomps. There is a ruminative quality to these slow meditations, something that is sure to get by anyone who is impatiently awaiting instantaneous kicks. The strikingly majestic "That's All" was the last pipe organ solo Waller would wax inside the little church in Camden, New Jersey that had been converted into a recording facility. By 1934 he had switched to the Hammond and stuck with it almost exclusively for the rest of his life. The strictly chronological approach to reissuing brings in two peculiar sides by Fats Waller & His Buddies, involving a silly frenetic barbershop quartet billed as the Four Wanderers. "Lookin' Good but Feelin' Bad" is both hyperactive humor and smoking hot jazz, during which Henry "Red" Allen seems about to make his trumpet come apart at the seams. Don't be surprised when pop star Gene Austin sings Waller's "My Fate Is In Your Hands," as the two men collaborated periodically, always with mutual respect. And brace yourself for "Big Business," nearly seven minutes of vintage Negro vaudeville with quite a bit of Jim Crow dialogue included. Listen in on the cast of "Hot Chocolates" as they make plans for "fixing" a prize fight while Fats Waller maintains a steady piano presence in the background. At the beginning of part two, one of the actors actually shouts at him to "cut out that plunkin' on that pianna and let me get my business straight!"
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Gene Austin