Fats Waller

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Fats Waller (May 21, 1904 – December 15, 1943), born Thomas Wright Waller, was a jazz pianist, organist, composer, singer, and comedic entertainer. He was the youngest of four children born to Adaline Locket Waller, wife of the Reverend Edward Martin Waller.

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Significance

Fats Waller started playing the piano when he was six and graduated to the organ of his father's church four years later. At the age of fourteen he was playing the organ at Harlem's Lincoln Theater and within twelve months he had composed his first rag. Waller's first piano solos (Muscle Shoals Blues and Birmingham Blues) were recorded in October 1922 when he was only 18 years old.

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, such as "Honeysuckle Rose", "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Squeeze Me". Fellow pianist and composer Oscar Levant dubbed Waller "the black Horowitz".[1] Waller composed many novelty swing tunes in the 1920s and 1930s 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.

The anonymous sleeve notes on the 1960 RCA (UK) album 'Handful of Keys' state that Waller copyrighted over 400 new tunes, many of which co-written with his closest collaborator Andy Razaf. After Waller's death in 1943, Razaf described his partner as 'the soul of melody....a man who made the piano sing...both big in body and in mind...known for his generosity...a bubbling bundle of joy'. Gene Sedric, a clarinetist who played with Waller on some of his 1930s recordings, is quoted in these same sleeve notes recalling Waller's recording technique with considerable admiration. 'Fats was the most relaxed man I ever saw in a studio', he said, 'and so he made everybody else relaxed. After a balance had been taken, we'd just need one take to make a side, unless it was a kind of difficult number'.

Musical contributions

Waller's touch varied and he was a master of dynamics and tension and release. He played with many performers, from Nat Shilkret (on Victor 21298-A) and 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".[citation needed]

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