picture of Fats Waller
Fats Waller
Fats (* 1904 in New York City) started playing the piano when he was six and graduated to playing the organ at his father's church four years later. His mother instructed him in his youth, and he attended other music lessons, paying for them by working in a grocery store. Fats attended DeWitt Clinton High School for one semester, but left school at 15 to work as an organist at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, where he earned $32 a week. Within 12 months he had composed his first rag. He was the prize pupil and later the friend and colleague of the stride pianist James P. Johnson.
 
Fats' first recordings were made in October 1922. That year, he also made his first player piano roll. Fats became one of the most popular performers of his era. He was also a prolific songwriter. Working with his long-time songwriting partner, lyricist Andy Razaf, Fats also wrote the music and/or performed in several successful Broadway musicals. Standards attributed to Fats, sometimes controversially, include "I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby". The song was made famous by Adelaide Hall in the Broadway show Blackbirds of 1928. The anonymous sleeve notes on the 1960 RCA Victor album Handful of Keys state that Waller copyrighted over 400 songs.
 
Fats played with Nathaniel Shilkret, Gene Austin, Erskine Tate, Fletcher Henderson, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and Adelaide Hall. Once Fats was kidnapped in Chicago while leaving a performance in 1926. Four men bundled him into a car and took him to the Hawthorne Inn, owned by Al Capone. Dats was ordered inside the building and found a party taking place. With a gun to his back he was pushed towards a piano and told to play. A terrified Waller realized he was the "surprise guest" at Capone's birthday party and was relieved that the kidnappers had no intention of killing him. In 1926, Fats began his recording association with the Victor Talking Machine Company/RCA Victor, his principal record company for the rest of his life, with the organ solos "St. Louis Blues" and his composition "Lenox Avenue Blues". Although he recorded with several groups, including Morris's Hot Babes (1927), Fats Waller's Buddies (1929) (one of the earliest multiracial groups to record), and McKinney's Cotton Pickers (1929), his most important contribution to the Harlem stride piano tradition was a series of solo recordings of his compositions. After sessions with Ted Lewis (1931), Jack Teagarden (1931) and Billy Banks' Rhythmakers (1932), he began in May 1934 the voluminous series of recordings with a small band known as Fats Waller and his Rhythm.
 
He enjoyed success touring the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 1930s, appearing on one of the first BBC television broadcasts in 1938. While in Britain, Fats also recorded a number of songs for EMI on their Compton Theatre organ located in their Abbey Road Studios. He appeared in several feature films and short subject films.
 
Fats performed Bach organ pieces for small groups on occasion. He influenced many pre-bebop jazz pianists; Count Basie and Erroll Garner have both revived his hit songs. In addition to his playing, Fats was known for his many humorous quips during his performances.
 
Between 1926 and the end of 1927, Fats recorded a series of pipe organ solo records. These represent the first time syncopated jazz compositions were performed on a full-sized church organ. In april 1927, Fats played organ at the Vendome in Chicago for movies alongside Louis Armstrong, where his organ-playing was praised for "witty cueing" and "eccentric stop coupling." Fats can be regarded as the first significant jazz organist. He was one of the first owners of a Hammond organ.
 
Later in Fats' career, he had the distinction of becoming the first African-American songwriter to compose a hit Broadway musical that was seen by a mostly white audience.
 
Fats contracted pneumonia and died in 1943.
 
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Discography
The Amazing Mr. Waller
Riverside Records RLP 12-109
recorded 1938 in New York City/USA
released 1955
Fats Waller, organ, piano, vocals
The Great 'Fats' Waller
Regal REG. 1012
recorded august 1938 and june 1939 in London/Great Britain
released 1965
Fats Waller, organ, vocals
Dave Wilkins, trumpet
George Chisholm, trombone
Alfie Kahn, tenor sax, clarinet
Ian Sheppard, tenor sax
Alan Ferguson, guitar
Len Harrison, bass
Edmundo Ros, drums
Young Fats At The Organ Vol. 3
Hot'N Sweet 151212
recorded november 1926, january + february 1927, may 1927, december 1927, march 1928, august 1929 in Camden, NJ/USA
transferred from 78 rpm and from metal parts
Fats Waller, pipe organ, organ, vocals
James P. Johnson, piano
Garvin Bushell, alto sax, clarinet
James Archey, trombone
Jabbo Smith, trumpet
Thomas Morris, cornet, vocals
Bobby Leecan, guitar, vocals
Edward T. King, drums
Alberta Hunter, vocals
At The Organ
Living Era AJA 5007
Transcribed from piano rolls recorded 1923-1927
Recorded february 1981 in Bolton, Lancashire/Great Britain
Fats Waller, organ
Fats Waller in London
EMI EG 260442 1
recorded august 1938 and june 1939 in London/Great Britain
released 1985
Fats Waller, pipe organ, piano, vocals
Alfie Kahn, tenor sax, clarinet
Ian Sheppard, tenor sax, violin
George Chisholm, trombone
Dave Wilkins, trumpet
Alan Ferguson, guitar
Len Harrison, bass
Edmundo Ros, drums
Hymie Schneider, drums
Max Lewin, drums
Adelaide Hall, vocals

 
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