A few weeks ago we posted “Jitterbug Waltz,” one of our favorite Fats Waller melodies, and wrote about his role introducing the Hammond organ to jazz. He was an accomplished keyboardist, comfortable at the Hammond, the piano, and the pipe organ as well. He formed the bridge between ragtime and stride piano and modern jazz.
Along with “Jitterbug Waltz,” Waller composed many jazz standards, the most well-known of which are “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”He and his longtime collaborator Andy Razaf also wrote “What Did I Do to be so Black and Blue?” for the Broadway show Hot Chocolates, which is distinguished as an early protest song reflecting on race relations in America. It was a hit for Ethel Waters and for Louis Armstrong (whose recording you’ll hear below), and was prominently featured in the prologue of Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man. “At first I was afraid,” begins Ellison’s unnamed narrator,
this familiar music had demanded action, the kind of which I was incapable, and yet had I lingered there beneath the surface I might have attempted to ask. Nevertheless, now I know that few really listen to the music.
Fats Wallers’ final recording session in 1943 featured a white musician, trumpeter Don Hirleman, at a time when integrated groups were rare. He died of pneumonia while traveling that December, and was remembered by more than 4,000 fans at his funeral in Harlem. It was said at the time “he always played to a packed house.”
As extraordinarily talented as Waller was as a composer and performer, he was also a consummate entertainer, known for his jokes and interjections during performances. The many sides he recorded as a singer capture his humor. These two tunes are from a single August 1934 session, included on the Bluebird collection you see up above. We are especially fond of the second one.
The reason we chose to write a little about Fats Waller again today is that the Southside Aces will be performing his music, with special guest Mike Polad on the keyboard, tonight at the Minneapolis Eagles Club #34. It’s part of their ongoing second Thursday residency there, which we featured when they released their disc of the same name earlier this year. The music starts at 8pm (details, if you’re all about Facebook, here) and we highly encourage fans of classic jazz to check it out.