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At the Piano

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Album Review

As a recording artist, Fats Waller liked to wear different hats — piano-playing vocalist, unaccompanied solo piano instrumentalist, piano-playing small-group instrumentalist, and on occasion, organist. Although the piano was Waller's primary instrument, he was also quite capable of playing both the huge pipe organ and the smaller Hammond organ. And all that variety was a healthy thing for Waller, who avoided becoming predictable. The title At the Piano might lead some to believe that this CD focuses on his instrumental work, but he sings on nine of the 14 selections (which span 1928-1943). And a few of the recordings find Waller sticking to the organ, including a 1942 recording of "The Jitterbug Waltz" and a 1928 performance of "Willow Tree" with the Louisiana Sugar Babes. So all things considered, At the Piano was an ill-advised title for this 2002 release — Waller certainly isn't at the piano on either "The Jitterbug Waltz" or "Willow Tree." Essentially, this CD is meant to serve as a best-of and give listeners a concise introduction to some of his better-known recordings. Clocking in at around 47 minutes, At the Piano is skimpy by CD standards. But the material is generally first-rate, and Waller excels whether he is playing unaccompanied solo piano on the instrumental "Smashing Thirds" in 1929 or providing humorous, good-natured vocals on "Don't Let It Bother You" and the goofy "Your Feet's Too Big" in the '30s. Many of the songs on this disc are songs that Waller recorded more than once; RCA goes with a 1943 vocal version of "Ain't Misbehavin'" but picks an instrumental 1937 version of "Honeysuckle Rose." At the Piano is hardly the last word on the singer/instrumentalist, but for novices, it can offer an enjoyable and well-rounded, though less than ideal, introduction to his artistry.


Born: 21 May 1904 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s

Not only was Fats Waller one of the greatest pianists jazz has ever known, he was also one of its most exuberantly funny entertainers -- and as so often happens, one facet tends to obscure the other. His extraordinarily light and flexible touch belied his ample physical girth; he could swing as hard as any pianist alive or dead in his classic James P. Johnson-derived stride manner, with a powerful left hand delivering the octaves and tenths in a tireless, rapid, seamless stream. Waller also pioneered...
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