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Happy Birthday Fats, Vol. 1

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Album Review

Thomas Waller was born in Harlem on May 21, 1904. Roughly 100 years later, the Fuel 2000 record label came out with a double-disc centennial birthday tribute album drawing upon live remote broadcasts from the Panther Room of the College Inn at Chicago's Hotel Sherman, a couple of V-Discs recorded with the intention of boosting morale among Armed Forces personnel during the Second World War, and a passel of transcription discs created specifically for radio broadcast purposes. This is a unique approach for a Fats Waller tribute, and it works really well. Waller sounds equally at home performing in public amidst the sounds of wining and dining, in a studio with members of his little Rhythm band, in duet with reedman Rudy Powell, and as a soloist. He cuts up, makes wisecracks, hollers with enthusiasm, or remains perfectly quiet while working the piano with virtuosic skill and intestinal fortitude. Peppered with reckless banter, the version of "Sheik of Araby" included here has rarely been brought before the public. Despite an erroneous citation in the enclosed discography and a claim within the liner notes stating that "these performances do not duplicate his studio recordings for Victor," "I Wish I Were Twins" is in fact the masterfully ebullient Victor recording originally issued to the public in 1934; it was one of the very first records ever waxed by Fats Waller & His Rhythm. None of this technical stuff will matter in the least to the average listener. What's important are the stride piano, the jubilant singing, and the swinging small bands that convey the unmistakable, irrepressible spirit of Fats Waller.


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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