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The Centennial Collection

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Album Review

This edition of Bluebird's Centennial Collection series celebrates what would've been Fats Waller's 100th birthday with a CD and DVD set showcasing the diversity of Waller's canon, from vocal-led tracks such as the infectious "Spring Cleaning" to his remarkable virtuosity as a soloist ("African Ripples," "Numb Feelin'") and one track with Waller on his preferred instrument, the organ ("Beale Street Blues," with Alberta Hunter on vocals). The majority of the material is focused on Waller's vocal performances that brought him fame, his scruffy voice crooning out and his absolutely endearing, hilarious, yet slightly dark ad libs leading His Rhythm effortlessly through the swinging stomping-grounds of several songs Waller brought to the public eye and which likely would've otherwise floundered in obscurity. The collection opens with one such song, "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," which Waller made famous in the mid-'30s, but the real gems on the collection are the songs Waller wrote himself, such as "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "The Joint Is Jumpin'." Surprisingly, neither "Honeysuckle Rose" nor "I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby (And My Baby's Crazy 'Bout Me)," perhaps Waller's two most famous compositions, makes an appearance here, but this is actually no loss considering the many Fats Waller collections available containing those two songs with little overlap otherwise. The focus here is less on the accomplishments for which Waller is truly well known and instead on the myriad accomplishments that have mostly lingered in the background of 70 years of shelf life. The CD is accompanied by a DVD featuring footage from the film King of Burlesque, in which Waller played a minor role, a cartoon made in the early '80s based on the track "Your Feet's Too Big," and other clips, making The Centennial Collection a handy set for collectors of Waller but still a very accessible and wonderful place for the curious to start.


Born: May 21, 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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