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The Best of the War Years

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Album Review

Some listeners might assume that The Best of the War Years is a collection of the most famous recordings that Fats Waller made for RCA Victor during World War II. Most of the material was, in fact, recorded during the Second World War, but not for RCA Victor. The Best of the War Years is actually a collection of V-disc recordings. In the '40s, V-discs were 78s that were pressed for the United States military. They were not sold commercially — V-discs were strictly for the enjoyment of American servicemen overseas — and many well-known jazz artists expressed their patriotism by donating recordings to the V-disc program. Sadly, Waller did not live long enough to see the end of World War II — the good-natured pianist/singer/organist was only 39 when he died of pneumonia on December 15, 1943. Some of this CD's 16 tracks predate World War II and the V-disc program, including a 1936 performance of "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" and a 1939 version of "Your Feet's Too Big." (In some cases, V-discs did not contain recordings that were made specifically for the V-disc program — they contained unreleased alternate takes or radio broadcasts that the artist donated). Most of the material, however, was recorded at a studio session in September 1943 — only three months before Waller's death — and that includes inspired performances of "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," and Duke Ellington's "Solitude." Waller set up that September 1943 session for the sole purpose of providing V-disc recordings; those recordings turned out to be his final studio performances, and they are the work of a true musical giant who was very much on top of his game during the final months of his life.


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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