Musical selection: I've Got Rhythm
New York, December 4, 1935
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down . . . The Early Years, Part 2, 1935-36
Bluebird/RCA 66640-2

   
         

 

 

Fats Waller took it in stride and brought the rest of us with him.

Nearly sixty years after his death, his consummate artistry and high-spirited zest for living make pianist/composer Fats Waller one of the most celebrated artists in jazz history. His best-known compositions, such as "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Black and Blue," and "Jitterbug Waltz," long ago entered the canon of American music. His skills as a pianist place him in the top tier of those who played the instrument, but have been obscured to some extent by his greatness as an entertainer with a widespread following in the United States and Europe.

Waller's voluminous recordings made between 1922 and 1943 are the cornerstone of how he is remembered. But another rich source for Waller scholars is the collection of Ed Kirkeby, Waller's manager from 1938 until 1943 (he also managed the California Ramblers and the Deep River Boys). The collection, housed at the Institute of Jazz Studies, is unfortunately incomplete as a record of Waller's final years, but its most striking part is a true gem. Kirkeby's candid photographs chart Waller's travels across the United States, and in England and Scotland during his European tours in 1938 and 1939. They comprise a rich photojournalistic look at this great, fun-loving jazzman's life on the road, in performance, and at the times in which he lived.

Selections from Kirkeby photographs for which original negatives exist form the visual core of this third in a series of digital exhibits on jazz legends that began with Benny Carter and Mary Lou Williams. The exhibits are co-produced by the Institute of Jazz Studies and the Dana Library Media and Digital Services, both located in the Dana Library on the Newark Campus of Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey. Work on the Waller exhibit was underwritten by the University's Strategic Resources and Opportunity fund.

 

The project resulted from efforts by students under the guidance of Mike Chumer, director of Media and Digital Services, and Tad Hershorn, archivist of the Institute. Computer Engineering major Edwin Vitery served as web master, assisted by Chintan Sheth and Wei Li, Business Administration and Computer Engineering students, in scanning the photographs.

Institute Director Dan Morgenstern provided historical context and a reminiscence of seeing Waller in Denmark as a youth during the pianist's 1938 European tour. Associate Director Edward Berger assisted with the editorial direction of the site. IJS Sound Preservation Specialist Vincent Pelote, long a student of Waller's music, selected the music that accompanies the web pages.

Dr. Paul Machlin, the Arnold Bernhard Professor of Music at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, shares his authority in the text prepared especially for this site. He is author of two books on Waller, Stride: The Music of Fats Waller (1985) and Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller: Performances in Transcription, 1927-1943 (2001). Machlin provides essential biographical information and sheds light on those elements of his music that made Waller such a distinctive figure in jazz.

Murray Horwitz, National Public Radio's vice President of Cultural Programming since 1996, who in July assumes the directorship of the American Film Institute's Silver Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, comes to the Waller story from another angle. In his essay "Fats Waller Now, Fats Waller Forever," written for this digital exhibit, he makes the case for Waller's continuing cultural significance. Horwitz was co-author of the 1978 Broadway hit Ain't Misbehavin' based on Waller's life. It received the Tony, Obie, and New York Drama Critics' Circle awards, and the cast album earned a Grammy. Horwitz also lent artifacts from his collection to illustrate his essay.

 
 
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