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Jazz Archives #1000(10”) 

Fats at the Organ Playing and singing folk songs and spirituals



  1. 1. Hallejujah, I'm A Bum (2:01)

  2. 2. She'll Be Comin' Round The Mountain (2:22)

  3. 3. Frankie And Johnny (2:21)

  4. 4. Hand Me Down My Walking Cane (2:12)


  1. 5. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (2:19)

  2. 6. Deep River (3:10)

  3. 7. Lord Delivered Daniel (2:29)

  4. 8. 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 newly released numbers that make up the two long-playing records titled "The amazing Mr. Waller" are in any way "proof" of his talents. His virtuosity, his humor, his range of moods, the special appeal of his voice - all this has long been well-established.

   But it has been some ten years since Waller's death (certainly he died too soon; and however long he might have lived, it would always have been too soon to be deprived of this incredibly ebullient personality). There are a substantial number of people who have grown up without ever having had an opportunity to hear Fats. There are many more whose memories of the sound of his voice, his piano, his organ might have frown just a bit dim - who have often felt it to be high time, and more, that they be able to hear him again, trying his most capable hand at new material.

   For such reasons, it provides a very pleasant feeling to offer these sixteen selections by Fats, which are now available for the first time on records. 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 best, and fit it into a great comic tradition that includes W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers and circus clowns 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 of exposing through satire 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. Few musicians who understood and played jazz ever achieved such wide public acclaim. Fats Waller's 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 the field. Sincerity, virility, a dependence on music rather than musical trickery - such terms describe the aim (if not always the achievements) of jazz, and they also unfailingly describe the music of Fats Waller.

   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 on him as a jazzman, the one-time pupil of James P. Johnson, the kid who started out at rent parties and in Harlem dives, who could plunge and roll and really swing with an intricacy and abandon that few could hope to equal.

That was Fats, a man who understood what the music was, who must have realized that there is no real dividing line between comedy and pathos. Then there was a day in 1938 when he sat down to cut these recordings. Just Tom Waller, all by himself, first at the organ and then at the piano. And it should seem to have been just 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.

   Volume 1“ It is safe to say that, in the hands of Fats Waller, the Hammond organ behaved as it did for no other man. Other jazz pianists have, at times, turned to the organ when mournful or sentimental effects were indicated; some have tried to make it bounce; some have merely allowed it to make them sound a bit ponderous. For Fats, the organ seemed to add a new dimension to his playing, to provide a richness that was never in the slightest danger of becoming copying. He could make it leap and ripple in defiance of its own build, could make it purr or growl, could extract from it unbelievably swift-changing modulations and shading of volume. And his remarkably expressive voice followed all these changes with ease.

   His material here is every divided between spirituals and time-tested folk songs. He obviously respects the mood and tradition of the spirituals, but he keeps them moving, fully aware that rhythm and rhythmic variation is their basic ingredient. He cannot be to serious about all of them: 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. There is perhaps-surprising emotional impact in his moody, respectful, nearly '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.

   The folk-song standards turn into an all-out romp in which both the organ and the lyrics get a thorough working over. He makes the most of their natural swing, and adds a lot that is all his own. But even in putting them through the Waller wringer, he doesn't neglect to indicate that there is a social message (of some sort) in songs like Hallelujah, I'm a Bum and Frankie and Johnnie, and in his personal version of the final verse of Walking Cane.

Issued by special arrangement LP produced by Bill Grauer

Notes by Orrin Keepnews

Cover by Hal Zamboni


125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N. Y.

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