Fats Waller  

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Honeysuckle Rose

Fats Waller (born Thomas Wright Waller on May 21, 1904 and deceased December 15, 1943) was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer and comedic entertainer.



He was a skilled pianist, and master of stride piano, having been the prize pupil and later friend and colleague of the greatest of the stride pianists, James P. Johnson. Waller was one of the most popular performers of his era, finding critical and commercial success in his homeland and in Europe. He was also a prolific songwriter, and many songs he wrote or co-wrote are still popular still, such as "Honeysuckle Rose", "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Squeeze Me". Fellow pianist and composer Oscar Levant dubbed Waller "the black Horowitz". Waller composed many novelty swing tunes in the 1920s and 30s, and sold them for relatively small sums. When the compositions became hits, other songwriters claimed them as their own. Many standards are alternatively and sometimes controversially attributed to Waller.

Musical contributions

Waller was an excellent and much copied jazz pianist and improvisor, and he was considered one of the best stride style players. His touch varied from subtle and extremely light to very powerful, and he was a master of dynamics and tension and release. However, it was Waller's singing, songwriting, and lovable, roguish stage personality that sold his hundreds of recordings for RCA Victor, at a time when society did not recognize jazz as "serious" music. He played with many performers, from Gene Austin to Erskine Tate to Adelaide Hall, but his greatest success came with his own five- or six-piece combo, "Fats Waller and his Rhythm".

His impressive and talented playing once put him at risk of injury. Waller was kidnapped in Chicago leaving a performance in 1926. Four men bundled him into a car and took him to the Hawthorne Inn, owned by gangster Al Capone. Fats was ordered inside the building, and found a party in full swing. Gun to his back, he was pushed towards a piano, and told to play. A terrified Waller realized he was the "surprise guest" at Al Capone's birthday party, and took comfort that the gangsters didn't intend to kill him. According to rumor, Waller played for three days. When he left the Hawthorne Inn, he was very drunk, extremely tired, and had earned thousands of dollars in cash from Capone and other party-goers as tips.

Waller wrote "Squeeze Me" (1919), "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now", "Ain't Misbehavin'" (1929), "Blue Turning Grey Over You", "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling" (1929), "Honeysuckle Rose" (1929), and "Jitterbug Waltz" (1942). He collaborated with the Tin Pan Alley lyricist Andy Razaf. Waller also composed stride piano display pieces such as "Handful of Keys", "Valentine Stomp" and "Viper's Drag." His songs have become standards of the jazz repertoire.

He enjoyed success touring United Kingdom and Ireland in the late 1930s, and appeared in one of the first BBC Television broadcasts. While in Britain, Waller also recorded a number of songs for EMI on their Compton Theatre organ located in their Studios in St John's Wood, London. He appeared in several feature films and short subject films, most notably "Stormy Weather" in 1943, which was released only months before his death.

For the hit Broadway show, "Hot Chocolates", he and Razaf wrote "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?" (1929), which became a hit for Ethel Waters and Louis Armstrong. This searing treatment of racism refutes the early criticism of Waller that his creations and performances were "shallow entertainment".

Waller was an accomplished composer and performer due to his classical keyboard studies. He performed [Bach] organ pieces for small groups on occasion. Waller influenced many pre-bop jazz pianists; Count Basie and Erroll Garner would have sounded different absent Waller.Template:Fact Today, Dick Hyman, Mike Lipskin, Louis Mazatier and other jazz pianists perform in the Waller idiom.

Although the stride style, like all jazz, must be learned primarily by ear, many scholars have transcribed his brilliant improvisations from old recordings and radio broadcasts, in sheet music form. Pianist and keyboard professor Paul Posnak has produced transcriptions of 16 of Waller's greatest solos that are published by Hal Leonard. Posnak performs this music in concert.

In addition to his virtuosic playing, Waller was known for his many quips during his performances, including:- "One never knows, do one?" ... "No lady, we can't haul your ashes for 25 cents, that's bad business" ... "Mercy!" ... "Well, all right then!" ... "I wonder what the poor people are doing - I'd love to be doing it with them!" ... "Run in and stab me, but don't bruise me!" ... "Wot's da matta wit DAT?!" ... and - of a large lady vocalist - "All that meat and no potatoes!"


Waller contracted pneumonia and died on a cross-country train trip near Kansas City, Missouri on December 15, 1943. His ashes were flown and spread over Harlem by the famous WW1 aviator known as "The black Ace" [1].

Grammy Hall of Fame

Recordings of Fats Waller were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fats Waller" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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