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Fats Waller - Thru the 30's, Vol. 2

Fats Waller

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Album Review

Delightful small-combo recordings from the mid-'30s are presented on this second set from the epic Fats Waller reissue series created by the French RCA branch. Enormous collections of material by one artist can sometimes have something of a smothering effect on the listener, a negative quality that certainly reached a nadir with the advent of the CD and sets that sometimes include several completely different versions of an album with alternate takes, remixes, and so forth. The sides in this series go for neither chronological accuracy nor a stuffing of the completist's larder. The released takes are presented, with the editing and sequencing based seemingly on only one goal, the creation of a grooving album to listen to. Waller is not a player who really needed to front a band, and, in fact, some of his fans prefer the many solo recordings by this artist, since a strong argument can be made that there was no one on the face of the earth that could really follow him when he got going. The players trying here include some interesting faces from the '30s jazz era, including guitarist Al Casey, the snappy drummer Harry Dial, Irish trombone blower Floyd O'Brien, trumpeters Herman Autry and Bill Coleman, and the tasty playing of Gene Sedric on clarinet and tenor saxophone. There is also a track featuring Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow, the title "Don't Let It Bother You" perhaps a message to this sideman whose reputation for marijuana distribution was much greater than his musical talent. The songs come from the Tin Pan Alley motherlode with only one co-written Waller original. It isn't a negative, since he turns every number into something so personal that it could have been a page ripped from a diary, all accomplished simply with charm, hair-trigger timing, and a real flair for the zany. Sometimes he is working with great material; in other cases, it is simply amazing how he takes almost ghastly writing such as "Serenade to a Wealthy Widow" and transforms it into genius. One of the worst aspects of the '90s swing revival was how some groups attempting to re-create this kind of material simply missed the point; it can heartily suggested that these players, along with listeners in general, turn back to this classic music to see what it was really all about. The inevitable conclusion might be that there was only one Fats Waller, and try as some players might, nobody could ever imitate him — or even come close.

Biography

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...
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