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Jazz Archives #1000(10”) 

eight selections never previously issued on records
– transcribed from piano rolls
also available at 45 rpm, on REP 105



  1. Squeeze Me (2:56) (Waller – C. Williams)

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

  3. Mama's Got The Blues (2:50) (Martin – C. Williams)

  4. 'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do (2:57) (Grainger – Robbins)


   5.18th Street Strut (2:36) (Castello – Moten)

   6.Your Time Now (2:35) (Spencer Williams)

   7.Papa Better Watch Your Step (2:46) (Wells- Cooper)

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

   FATS WALLER, who died in 1943, is now something of a legend in American music. It was almost inevitable that this would happen, for he was one of those men unmistakably destined to leave behind a larger than life-sized memory; a big man; with immense vitality, great appetites, and small regard for the conventional ways of doing things; and tremendously good at his life's work - which happened to be playing and singing jazz with a combination of skill and humor unlikely ever to be duplicated.

   If there is a single word that best describes Fats and his music, the obvious choice is alive. To anyone who saw him in action, or heard his records, it seems incredible that he has really stopped. Surely it can't be any 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 jazz out of whatever music was at hand.

   Both the quality of aliveness in the man and the sense of legend around him add special excitement to the “discovery” marked by this LP. These solos were originally played almost thirty years ago, but they are heard now for the first time as records. That’s the sort of thing that happens only to figures f legend. And it also seems particularly fitting that Fats, a decade dead, can now give us “new” examples of his wonderful, happy talent.

   These eight solos were made as piano rolls, most of them in 1923, by a young musician named Thomas Waller (no one had as yet gotten around to calling him “Fats”; for one thing, he wasn’t especially hefty then). Waller was barely beginning to make a name for himself around Harlem, playing in theaters, at small clubs, and at the fabulous rent parties of the era. But all the qualities that were to make him one of the major figures of jazz are already here – 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.

   Fats went on to a brilliant career as musician, composer and entertainer. In the years that followed, he made hundreds of fine recordings (all too few of them, unfortunately, now available). But his piano rolls were to go on only to oblivion – there was simply no place else for them to go. With the mushroom growth of radio and phonograph, the player piano became virtually obsolete, and rolls like these vanished just about as completely as if they’d never existed. Today, a few piano roll collectors hoard rare items; a few people with very good memories may dimly recall once having heard solos such as these; but at the very least these numbers will be a new musical experience to an entire generation of listeners.

   The producers of Riverside Records have always known, rather vaguely, that such rolls existed and that they contained wonderful music. Their source was finally tracked down: the Imperial Industrial Company, of New York (which still turns out versions of current hit songs for the remaining owners of player pianos). The company is headed by Max Kortlander, who probably deserves credit he’ll never receive for having first recognized musical talents long before the record companies who later made them famous. Through the cooperation of Mr. Kortlander, and of helpful collectors rolls from which bands #3,4 and 7 of this LP were transcribed), Riverside is now able to release new albums of great and long-neglected piano music. These include the work of Scott Joplin and other magnificent early ragtimers (RLP 1006; Ragtime Piano Roll), of James P. Johnson, who was Waller’s teacher (RLP 1011: Early Harlem Piano), and others. Certainly one of the most rewarding of these discoveries is this KP of the memorable early efforts of Fats Waller.

   These solos serve to emphasize an aspect of Fats’ genius that has been somewhat obscured by his later fame as a showman; his remarkable skill as a piano jazzman. When he cut these rolls for the “QRS” label, Waller was very much a part of the lusty, hard-driving, Harlem “rent party” school. He was often to be found at a free-swinging, all-night bash in someone’s apartment, sharing the piano with veterans like James P. Johnson, The Beetle, or Luckey Roberts. Johnson had helped greatly in Waller’s transition to jazz after early classical training, and his influence is clear enough in Fats’ romping style. The songs here are the varied kinds they all liked to work over: show tunes like ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness; the popular songs of Spencer Williams: blues and blues-tinged numbers; and party standards (such as the bawdy bit that Fats and Clarence Williams 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…

A note about the art of the player piano: Recreating this music was far more than a matter of turning a switch and pounding the pedals. Riverside is deeply indebted to J. Lawrence Cook, who has been making piano rolls (and editing those of other pianists) for some thirty years, and surely knows far more about them than any other man. Cook remembers well the days when Tom Waller first cut these rolls; the shadings of emphasis, the dynamics, the amazing ‘presence’ and the authenticity of these recordings are a tribute to the care, affection and skill with which Cook handled the player-piano mechanics of their transcription to LP form.

   A note to discographers, on the original QRS label numbers of the rolls, and the months in which Waller made them; In 1923 – Your Time Now (2245), May; Snake Hips (2256) and ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness (2270), June; Papa Better Watch Your Step (2286), July; Mama’s Got the Blues (2322), August; You Can’t Do (2444), December. In 1926 – Squeeze Me (3352) February; 18th Street Strut (3377), March.

   A note to discographers, on the original QRS label numbers of the rolls, and the months in which Waller made them; In 1923 – Your Time Now (2245), May; Snake Hips (2256) and ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness (2270), June; Papa Better Watch Your Step (2286), July; Mama’s Got the Blues (2322), August; You Can’t Do (2444), December. In 1926 – Squeeze Me (3352) February; 18th Street Strut (3377), March.

   This material is issued by special arrangement with Imperial Industrial Company, manufactures of QRS piano rolls

Produced by Bill Grauer

Notes by Orrin Keepnews

Cover by Paul Bacon


418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.

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