"Fats" Waller
Waller on the Ivories
Victor Smart Set

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Thomas "Fats" Waller was born on May 21st, 1904 in New York City. His father, a clergyman, had hoped that he would follow in his footsteps, but after a long series of private lessons he became a professional pianist at the age of 15 and was heard in many cabarets and theatres during the 1920s, accompanying Bessie Smith and other blues singers as well as playing organ and piano solos. He worked in Chicago with Erskine Tate in 1925. During the late 1920s he made a name for himself as a composer of popular songs for such shows as "Connie's Hot Chocolates," in collaboration with lyricist Andy Razaf.

After a long series of broadcasts over WLW Radio in Cincinnati, Waller made a brief trip to France in 1932; Soon after this he started working with a small band in New York. In May 1934 he began a famous series of Victor record sessions with six-piece groups, generally featuring his own satirical treatments of current pop songs that were a main identification for the rest of his life. In later years he toured (and occasionally recorded) with a bigger band, but the sides cut with the sextets best reflected Waller's unique style and personality. Waller was the first musician to play jazz successfully and tastefully both on the pipe organ and the Hammond organ. As a singer, he was mainly regarded as a comedy personality, though the jazz qualities shone through even on his slapdash performances of third rate Tin Pan Alley tunes which he frequently had to learn at the recording session.

As a pianist, Waller added to the James P. Johnson style a symmetry and delicacy without precedent in jazz. At times light and airy, but occasionally forceful with a mighty "stride" left hand, Waller could make a gem out of the tritest pop song. His biggest record hit, "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter", ironically was not one of his own compositions, though he scored other big hits with tunes that were his own, among them "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," "Blue Turning Gray Over You," and many instrumental piano numbers. His earliest composition was "Squeeze Me," written with Spencer Williams in 1918. He died in Kansas City on December 15, 1943, in a train on his way back from Los Angeles to New York of pneumonia.

This Victor "Smart Set" reissue album, released during the recording ban of 1942, is a collection of his solo piano pieces, some of which he composed himself. Here are the record statistics off the labels, from the W.A.M.S. Database.

Rockin' Chair
Hoagy Charmichael
Recorded 5/13/41

Georgia On My Mind
Hoagy Carmichael & Stuart Gorrell
Recorded 5/13/41

Tea For Two
Irving Caesar & Vincent Youmans
Recorded 6/9/37

I Ain't Got Nobody
Roger Graham & Spencer Williams
Recorded 6/9/37

Basin Street Blues
Spencer Williams
Recorded 6/9/37

Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now
Andy Razaf & Thomas "Fats" Waller
Recorded 6/9/37

Viper's Drag
Thomas "Fats" Waller
Recorded 11/16/34

Handful Of Keys
Thomas "Fats" Waller
Recorded 3/1/29"

All of the records are in excellent shape and ARE NOT for sale! Tape copies may be available soon for a nominal fee through W.A.M.S., depending upon copyright laws, (our staff attorney is in the process of researching this). Our initial guess is that these are public domain, (being close to 50 years old!) and any tape dupes from shellac disks sold at cost should be considered "Fair Use." Although, since Waller is a "Name," some of these sides have been reissued already on CD, and probably belong to the Dog. We shall see . . .

Some of the information in this mini-bio were obtained from Leonard Feather's "Encyclopedia of Jazz"
(1960; Bonanza Books, NY).

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