THE AMAZING MR. WALLER
Fats Waller plays and sings traditional songs and spirituals
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Side 1: vocals and piano. Side 2: vocals and organ. (No vocals on Side 1, #3 and 7) Recorded in New York; 1938
Oh, Susanna (2:53)
Loch Lomond (3:10)
Faust Waltz (2:57)
When You and I Were Young, Maggie (3:23)
Oh, Dem golden Slippers (2:44)
Old Oaken Bucket (3:16)
Intermezzo (form Cavalleria Rusticana) (2:18)
Annie Laurie (2:46)
Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (2:01)
She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain (2:22)
Frankie and Johnnie (2:21)
Hand Me Down My Walking Cane (2:12)
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (2:19)
Deep River (3:10)
Lord Delivered Daniel (2:29)
Go Down, Moses (2:44)
It was never any secret that Thomas “Fats” Waller was one of the most remarkable entertainers this country has ever known. So you can’t say that the sixteen selections that make up this LP are in any way “proof” of his talents. His skill as pianist and as satirist, his range of moods, the special appeal of his voice, his unique brand of humor – such things have all long been well-established.
But Waller has been dead since 1943. Certainly he died soon; and however long he might have lived, it would always have been too soon to be deprived of this incredibly ebullient and heart-warming personality. There surely are a substantial number of people who must feel (even though a moderate amount of his recordings are currently available) that it’s high time, and more, that they were enabled to hear him again, trying his very capable hand at some new and different material.
Thus it provides an extremely pleasant feeling to offer these selections, which until recently had never been available on records. (These numbers were previously issued only on two ten-inch Riverside LP’s; they are now combined for the first time into a single package.) In any event, you’d have to feel pleasant in the presence of Mr. Waller. He simply wouldn’t allow it to be any other way.
Not that Fats was merely a “clown.” He was a great deal more than that, although he was very much the clown, too – if you’ll take that word at its very best, and if it into a great comic tradition that includes W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, and circus performers like Emmett Kelly, and that undoubtedly stretches back to the medieval court jesters: all of them men who could make us laugh at them and at ourselves at the same time, all of them capable for exposing through humor the pompous pretensions of conventional society.
To those who love jazz, Fats has a special value, as a unique kind of ambassador to the rest of the world. Among those who understand and play this music, probably no one except Louis Armstrong has ever achieved wider public acclaim. Fats Waller appeal went far beyond the narrow limits that are often placed on “real jazz,” yet he never in his life played anything that could not be called jazz. As these recordings indicate, he could take the most unlikely material and from it derive a performance that fits any sensible definition of jazz. Sincerity, strength, a dependence on music rather than musical trickery – such terms describe the aims (if not always the achievements) of jazz, and they also unfailingly describe the work of Fats.
His secret seems to have been something that might as well be called “good taste.” His playing and singing could be devastatingly sardonic, but never wantonly cruel; ribald, but never smutty (since smut involves the feeling that there’s something ‘wrong and dirty” in what you’re doing). And he could please the public as a whole without ever disappointing those who looked upon him as a superior jazzman, the one-time pupil of Harlem pianist James P. Johnson, the kid who started out by playing at rent parties and in Harlem dives, who could plunge and drive and really swing his music with a combination of intricacy, delicacy and abandon that few could hope to equal.
That was Fats, a man who obviously understood what the music was all about, and who must also have realized that there is no real dividing line between comedy and pathos. Then there was a day, about five years before his death, when he sat down to play the numbers to be heard here. Just Tom Waller, all by himself, at the piano and then at the organ It would seem to have been one of those rare days, when he had all those thoughts about comedy and pathos and satire and jazz firmly (though not necessarily consciously or deliberately) in mind ….
Most of the material on this LP has been played and played, sung and sung, until it might have seemed that all their possibilities had been exhausted, all their appeal used up. But then Mr. Waller took hold of them. The results perhaps might not please the original composers, concert tenors, or high school glee club leaders, but they’re surely the only ones likely to complain.
The several folk songs and traditional ‘standards’ get a particularly vigorous going-over. There is, for example, the deft demonstration of economy in which it takes Fats just one word – his unprecedented pronounciation of “Loch” – to demolish the particular breed of singers who, about the time of this recording, were gaily turning Loch Lomond into a Hit-Parade-type “Swing song.” And after he is finished with Stephen Foster’s Oh, Susanna, with its vocal “banjo” chorus and the special handling of the line “I’ve come from Alabammy …”, you can consider yourself revenged on all folksy banjoists, night club pseudo-folk singers, and the guy who turned that party last week into a community sing.
In dealing with spirituals, he obviously respects their mood and tradition, but is fully aware that rhythm and rhythmic variation is their basic ingredient. He makes most free with Oh, Dem Golden Slippers (which, in any case, belongs more to the minstrel show tradition than the religious), injecting some magnificent “fine, Arabian” nonsense. And his brisk treatment of that old warhorse , Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, should (but probably won’t) silence all those who have buried its wonderful melody under tons of solemnity. But there is perhaps-surprising emotional impact in his moody, respectful, almost ‘straight’ approach to the beautiful Deep River and Go Down, Moses; and strength as well as a swinging roll to the less-familiar Lord Delivered Daniel.
It should be noted that, in the hands of Fats Waller, the organ behaved as it has done for no other man. Most jazz pianists, when they have turned to the organ, have merely allowed it to make them seem rather ponderous. For Fats, however, the instrument seemed to add a new dimension to his playing, to provide a richness that was never in the slightest danger of becoming cloying. He could make it leap and ripple in defiance of its own bulk, could make it purr or growl, could extract from it unbelievably swift-changing modulations and shadings.
Although Waller’s indifference to the merits of the lyrics here (with just a few notable exceptions) is very clear, this doesn’t keep him from making the most of the melodies on both piano and organ. His power, imagination and deft touch, the technical skill and daring of his sudden bright bursts and delicate swinging of the Faust Waltz to the hearty riffs of When You and I Were Young, Maggie: from the guttiness of Frankie and Johnny to the tenderness of the spirituals. It’s good music and good fun – which is exactly what Fats always provided.
A group of rare Waller solos, originally on player-piano rolls, makeup a 12” Riverside LP;
FATS WALLER: Rediscovered Early Solos (RLP 12-103)
Other 12-inch albums featuring the work of great figures of classic jazz include:
Young LOUISARMSTRONG (RLP 12-101)
“N.O.R.K.” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)
JOHNNY DODDS: New Orleans Clarinet (RLP 12-104)
JAMES P. JOHNSON: Rare Solos (RLP 12-105)
Giant of BOOGIE WOOGIE: Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis (RLP 12-106)
MUGGSY SPANIER: Chicago Jazz (RLP 12-107)
MA RAINE (RLP 12-108)
Issued by special arrangements.
LP produced by BILL GRAUER
Notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover by GENE GOGERTY
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 19th Street New York 19, N.Y.