Fats Waller was a child prodigy who studied piano with virtuoso jazz pianist/composer James P. Johnson. He was a larger-than-life entertainer of huge appetites who approached his compositions from the viewpoint of a jazzman, creating swinging melodies and beautiful chord changes.
His first published composition, with lyrics by Jo Trent, was “In Harlem’s Araby” from 1924. The following year he had his first hit with “Squeeze Me,” lyrics credited to Clarence Williams but possibly written by Andy Razaf. His most fruitful collaboration was with lyricist Razaf, whose mother considered Waller her “other son.” They produced a string of hits in 1929, among them “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Black and Blue (What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue),” “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” made famous by many artists including Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong. The hits continued with “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” (1932), “The Joint Is Jumpin’” (1940), and “Jitterbug Waltz” (1942). There has been controversy over the authorship of some of his compositions because he was known to occasionally sell songs to other writers to pay off his debts.
Waller was an important recording artist of the late-1920s up until his death in 1943. His early recording career included piano solos, freelance jazz band work, and accompanying vocalists. In 1935 he formed his own band, Fats Waller and His Rhythm, with which he recorded hundreds of titles for Victor Records. In addition to his successful band work, Fats was able to record a number of stunning piano solos while under contract to Victor.
Waller is considered to be the “grandfather of jazz organ.” He played pipe organ in his father’s church, for vaudeville shows and silent films, and made recordings on both pipe and Hammond organs. He brought his own technique to the instrument and made it swing.
The 1978 Broadway tribute to his music, Ain’t Misbehavin’, won a Tony for Best Musical and ran for 1,604 performances.
-- Sandra Burlingame
Courtesy of JazzStandards.com