RLP 12-103
FATS WALLER Rediscovered Early Solos

(transcribed from player-piano rolls originally made by Waller in New York 1923-27)

Jazz Archives #100(12”) 

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SIDE 1

  1. Squeeze Me (2:57) (Waller – C. Williams)

  2. You Can’t Do What My Last Man Did (2:39) (Johnson – Moore)

  3. Laughin’ Cryin’ Blues (3:37) (Grainger – Ricketts)

  4. Don’t Try to Take My Man Away (3:50) (T. A. Hammed)

  5. Got to Cool My Doggies Now (3:19) (Schafer – Thompson – C. Williams)

  6. Nobody But My Baby (3:17) (Clarence Williams)

SIDE 2

  1. A New Kind Of Man with a New Kind of Love for Me (2:53) (Clare – Flatow)

  2. ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do (2:55) (Grainger – Robbins)

  3. 18th Street Strut (2:36) (Costello – Moten)

  4. Your Time Now (2:35) (Spencer – Williams)

  5. Papa Better Watch Your Step (2:46)(Wells – Cooper)

  6. Snake Hips (2:39) (Spencer Williams)


   There are men who can only be described as being larger than life size. It is a status that involves much more than being rich, talented, famous or powerful (although any or all of those things can help). More than anything else, it is a matter of an aura, an air that immediately and unmistakeably stamps some few men as being above and apart from the rest of us. Not necessarily happier, handsomer, cleverer, or more helpful around the house – but different.

   FATS WALLER was clearly such a man. It was inevitable that he would become something of a legend in American music during his lifetime, and remain one after death. For he was a physically huge man, with immense vitality, great appetites, and small regard for the conventional ways of doing things. He was also tremendously good at his chosen life’s work, which happened to be playing and singing jazz with a combination of skill and humor unlikely ever to be duplicated.

   And there was a unique feeling about Fats and his music. If you want to pin it down to a single word, that word has to be: “alive.” The statistics note that Waller lived just a bit less than forty years, and died in mid-December of 1943. But to anyone who ever saw him in action or has heard his records, it seems incredible that he has really stopped. Surely it must be no longer ago than yesterday that he last crowded his bulk onto a piano bench and began to cut the inflated lyrics of some insipid pop song down to size with the robust irony of his voice, or to extract every possible ounce of strength and of jazz out of whatever music was at hand.

   Both the quality of aliveness and the sense of legend around the man add special excitement to the “discovery” marked by this LP. These solos were originally played some thirty years ago, but Riverside has been able to present them for the first time as records. That’s the sort of thing that happens only to figures of legend. And it also seems particularly fitting that Fats, long after his death, can give us what amount to “new” examples of his wonderful, happy talent.

   These dozen solos were made as player-piano rolls, between 1923 and 1927, by a young musician named Thomas Waller, the son of a Harlem minister. Not yet billed as “Fats” (for one thing, he apparently wasn’t too unusually hefty then), young Waller was barely beginning to make a name for himself in Harlem theaters, at small clubs, and at the fabulous rent parties of that era. But all the qualities that were to make him one of the major figures of jazz are already in evidence – the vibrant power, the exuberance, the intricate imagination, the sudden dazzling runs. Fats was never to become much better than this (as these selections show, that was hardly possible); he was just to become very much more appreciated.

   Waller of course went on from here to a brilliant career as musician, composer and entertainer. In the years that followed, he made literally hundreds of fine recordings. But his piano rolls were to go on only to oblivion. There was simply no place else for them to go. For, with the mushroom growth of radio and phonograph, the player piano become virtually obsolete, and rolls such as these vanished just about as completely as if they had never existed. Today, a few piano roll collectors hoard rare items; a few people with very good memories may dimly recall having heard solos such as these; but at the very least these selections are, of necessity, a new musical experience for a whole generation of listeners.

   Knowing, if rather vaguely, that such rolls existed, Riverside succeeded some time ago in tracking down their source: the Imperial Industry Company, of New York (which still turns out, on “QRS” rolls, versions of current popular songs for the remaining owners of player pianos). Riverside has released several new albums of great and long-neglected piano music, as noted below. (Some numbers on this LP are available on a 10-inch album; RLP 1010. Others are issued here for the first time on records.)

   One of the most rewarding of these piano-roll discoveries, this collection actually serves to emphasize an aspect of Fats’ genius that has been somewhat obscured by his subsequent fame as a singing showman: his remarkable skill as a jazz artist. When these rolls were being cut, Waller was very much a part of the lusty, hard-driving Harlem “rent party” school of piano playing. He was often to be found at one of the very many free-swinging all-night affairs in some apartment or other, taking turns at the keyboard with and competing rather successfully against colorful and talented veterans like James P. Johnson, Willie “The Lion” Smith, or Luckey Roberts.

James P. was his close friend and teacher; the older man had helped Waller greatly in his transition to jazz after early classical training, and, as a leader in this tight-knit society, had given Fats his first opportunities to be heard. (It was apparently on Johnson’s recommendation that Waller was hired to cut the earliest of these rolls.) And Johnson’s influence is clear enough in the romping, striding style here.

   The repertoire includes the varied kinds they all liked to work over: show tunes likes ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness; the popular songs of Spencer Williams; numbers tinged with the feel of blues and of ragtime; and party standards like the bawdy bit that Fats and Clarence Williams had re-shaped into Squeeze Me. To this basic style and material, Waller adds his unique contributions – the lilt, the swing, the many qualities that add up to his own very personal greatness. . . .

   (Riverside is grateful to J. Lawrence Cook, who has been making rolls and editing those of other pianists for over thirty years, and who remembers well the days when Tom Waller cut these. He is responsible for the authenticity and amazing presence of these recordings, having handled the player-piano mechanics of transferring several of the numbers to tape, and having passed on to us some of his vast knowledge of the art of the player piano.)


   A discographical note on the original QRS numbers of the piano rolIs. IN choronological order, according to the approzimate dates when they were cut, these are:  Got to Cool My Doggies Now (roll number 2149), February, 1923; Laughin’ Cryin’ Blues (2213), April, 1923; Your Time Now (2245), May 1923; Snake Hips (2256) and ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness …(2270), both June, 1923; Papa better Watch Your Step (2286), July, 1923; You Can’t Do … (2444), December, 1923; Don’t Try to Take … (2711), May, 1924; Squeeze Me (3352), February, 1926; 18th Street Strut (3377), March, 1926; Nobody But My Baby (3997), July, 1927; A New Kind of Man … (number unknown, probably 1927.


   Fats Waller can also be heard on Riverside on –

The Amazing Mr. Waller: Piano, organ, voice (RLP 12-109)

   Other major figures in jazz history are featured on such 12-inch LPs as –

Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (RLP 12-101)

LOUIS ARMSTRONG: 1923 – with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (RLP 12-122)

BIX BEIDERBECKE (RLP 12-123)

JELLY ROLL MORTON: Classic Piano Solos (RLP 12-111)

JOHNNY DODDS: New Orleans Clarinet (RLP 12-104)

JAMES P. JOHNSON: Rare Solos (RLP 12-105)

“N.O.R.K.” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)

Yancey’s Gateway: piano solos by JIMMY YANCEY (RLP 12-124)

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Issued by special arrangement with Imperial Industrial Company, makers of QRS piano rolls


LP produced by Bill Grauer

Notes by Orrin Keepnews

Cover designed by Gene Gogerty; photograph from “A Pictorial History of Jazz.”


RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.

553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.