Fats Waller was one of the select few jazz musicians whose popularity allowed him to tour Europe in the late 1930s. The 1938 tour of Great Britain brought an invitation for a second tour the following year. The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 curtailed any additional tours of Europe for Waller.

 

Musical selection: Lulu's Back in Town
New York, May 8, 1935
Breakin' the Ice, The Early Years, Part 1, 1934-35
Bluebird/RCA 66618-2



   
 
         

 

 

The association with Victor in 1934 ushered in a new, stable, but ultimately destructively hectic phase of Waller's career. The number and kinds of engagements he was offered increased markedly: he went to Hollywood in 1935 and again in 1943 for appearances in films; he toured throughout the United States under what can only be considered brutally challenging circumstances; he made two successful but densely packed concert tours of England and Europe in 1938 and 1939; and he continued to make recordings for Victor and to appear with extraordinary frequency in nightclubs and on radio. Much of this frenetic activity was organized by Waller's last manager, Ed Kirkeby, who officially took over that position in 1938, though he had probably begun informally assisting Phil Ponce (Waller's previous manager) as early as 1935. Yet despite the grueling amount of work, Waller still found time to compose individual songs and a suite for piano solo as well as the score for the show Early To Bed, which occupied much of his time in early 1943. Occasionally, he would relieve the banality of Victor's diet of Tin Pan Alley songs with

 

 

recordings of spirituals, folk songs, and stride interpretations of excerpts from well-known operas.

 

Waller traveled to Hollywood in October to appear at a club known as the Zanzibar Room. During the course of this engagement, he became ill, probably with pneumonia. His health, already severely taxed by overindulgence in food and alcohol, as well as by the punishing pace of performing activity he had been forced to endure, deteriorated markedly over a very few weeks. Returning to New York from Los Angeles aboard the passenger train the Santa Fe Chief, Waller succumbed to pneumonia during the night of December 14-15, at some point prior to the train's arrival in Kansas City, Missouri. His funeral was held in Harlem; over 4200 people were in attendance. As the Reverend Dr. Adam Clayton Powell remarked in his eulogy, "Fats Waller always played to a packed house."

 
     
 
 
                 
   
                 
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