Friday, October 10, 2014

Fats Waller: Ain't Misbehavin'

Jazz singer/songwriter/pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller was born in New York City, in 1904. While he is not a household name to the extent of fellow jazz legends, Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, and Goodman, Fats Waller was no less important or influential. In the opinion of his fellow musicians, especially Louis Armstrong, he was a giant among giants.

As a youth in New York City, Waller sought out the Harlem stride piano legend, James P. Johnson, and became the great pianist’s understudy. Soon thereafter, Waller was one of the best stride pianists in the city. The stride style is sort of the jazz version of boogie-woogie, and as such, it is quite palatable to the ears of rock music fans. Waller would eventually become one of the very best pianists that jazz ever produced. Only the likes of Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson and Oscar Peterson could match his virtuosity.

In addition to being one of the finest musicians in early jazz, Waller was one of the best and most prolific songwriters in jazz, penning the standards, “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain't Misbehavin.” Many of Waller’s compositions are humorous, and display his penchant for writing clever lyrics laden with double-meanings.

Waller’s first recording was made as early as 1922, with the sides, “Muscle Shoals Blues” and “Birmingham Blues” recorded for the General Phonograph Company. After a few more recording sessions in 1923, Waller’s recording career would begin in earnest in 1927 with a solid string of classic sides that would continue until his death in 1943.

Waller’s first big hit, “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” appeared in 1929, and was followed by scads of others including, “African Ripples,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Viper’s Drag,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” “S’Posin’,” “You’re Feets Too Big,” “All That Meat and No Potatoes,” “The Joint is Jumpin’,” and “A Good Man’s Hard to Find.”

These recordings and more can be found on several excellent compilations of Waller’s music such as the multi-volume “The Complete Fats Waller,” “The Very Best of Fats Waller” (2000), and “The Centennial Collection” (2004).