Fats Waller had become a bit of an institution by the end of 1938. As an internationally famous pianist, organist, vocalist and bandleader, he was also known as the man who could make an enjoyable three-minute jazz record out of nearly any lousy song that was put in front of him. For the true Waller devotee there is something magical about each and every recording. Sympathetic listeners are able to feel as if they are sitting in front of the band, breathing the same night air as the musicians, and finding the time to fully enjoy each song as it is performed. "Imagine My Surprise" is not a great tune, but it becomes worthwhile when Fats Waller puts his personality around it. "I Won't Believe It" would have been a weepy bit of tripe if anyone besides Fats tried to float it. "The Spider and the Fly" is even more interesting. Waller wrote it himself, he delights in presenting the tale, his band sings along, and the combined topics of seduction and entomology carry a bit more weight than the generic heartthrob ditties of Tin Pan Alley. "Patty Cake, Patty Cake" was the beginning of a trend for Fats. Over the next couple of years he would record quite a number of songs which appear to be puerile until you realize the musicians are swinging like crazy and Waller is referencing all kinds of adult topics. On paper this might seem to be about cake, but off the record it appears to have more to do with playing hot music, dancing with wild abandon and chasing after elusive pleasures. The session of January 19, 1939 was to yield even more substantial results. Beginning with the definitive "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (possibly the best version ever recorded by anyone!) Waller relishes each song, polishing "You Outsmarted Yourself" until it positively glows with articulated irony and exquisite instrumentation. "Last Night a Miracle Happened," "Kiss Me With Your Eyes" and "Good for Nothin' but Love" are slow and romantically endearing, strong enough material for the band to develop relaxing and wistful moods, particularly when Fats trundles out the Hammond organ. Most people would consider "Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama)" to be the best song of the entire session. It's certainly the funniest, liveliest and hottest of the lot. Pop crooner Gene Austin had a lasting friendship with Fats, and they managed to record together from time to time. The two sides included here are goofy fun for anybody who's not too uptight to relax and enjoy the unlikely combination of two very different artists. The session of March 9, 1939 is full of surprises. "You Asked For It -- You Got It" is fast and funny, full of vinegar, perfect kindling for Waller's mischievous mannerisms. "Some Rainy Day" is slower but just as spiteful, with Fats imitating the accents of a highfalutin pretty boy vocalist. "'Tain't What You Do" is outrageous compared to other versions of this big band hit. Fats, who always managed to infect the band with his own contagious strain of mayhem, squeaks as high as his voice will go on the syllable "do-it." Wistful and calm, "Got No Time" is an ode to relaxation and whimsy, the deliberately slow testimony of a man who refuses to be bothered by anything. "Undecided," composed by Charlie Shavers, unfolds at an unusually slow tempo, allowing the musicians to flesh out the melody while Fats carefully outlines each and every segment of the lyric. Well-known for finishing his songs with off-hand one-liners, he simply ends by quietly saying: "I got to know what you're gonna do."
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