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


   
 

Ed Kirkeby was—at least on the evidence of the materials in the boxes stored in the Institute of Jazz Studies—a compulsive preservationist. He apparently saved every document, letter, program, contract, published article, photograph, newsletter, and scrap of publicity that came across his path that had even a tangential bearing on Fats Waller's career.

This impulse to maintain a documentary record of Waller's work was probably born of Kirkeby's ardent belief in Waller's significance for the history of jazz; in his later life, Kirkeby struggled valiantly (if somewhat quixotically) to keep Waller's music and memory in front of the American public. The majority of the material in the collection, whatever its provenance, comes from the period during which Kirkeby was active as Waller's manager, from 1938 to the end of Waller's life in 1943. While some of the photos have appeared previously in different publications (Ain't Misbehavin', for example, Kirkeby's own biography of Waller), others—equally interesting, and in some cases even more valuable from a historical standpoint than the published ones—are being shown for the first time (to my knowledge) in this exhibit.

The sheer number and variety of images is remarkable: the collection includes an encyclopedic record of Waller on tour in America and in England and Scotland, with numerous shots of theater marquees and billboards, pictures of Waller backstage preparing for his appearances (or relaxing after them) as well as on-stage in performance, scenes aboard ship or on the tour bus, and pictures documenting rest stops made in diverse locations (ranging from the middle of nowhere in the American southwest to urban centers such as Los Angeles and Dallas).

Collectively, these images provide a detailed record of Waller's extensive travels, destinations, and public appearances in the last years of his life. The other kinds of documents in the collection present a somewhat less comprehensive overview than the photos, but they are nevertheless significant for historical and biographical purposes. The letters in particular—mostly correspondence between Kirkeby and Phil Ponce, Waller's previous manager—reveal clearly the hectic pace and changeable nature of a musician's life on the road; almost any detail of an engagement could be revised at the last moment, necessitating rapid and often complex alterations in arrangements (for travel, payment, arrival or curtain times, and so on).

But perhaps the most precious letter of all in the collection is the one penned by Waller himself to Kirkeby; it demonstrates conclusively (if such a demonstration were needed!) that even in times of tribulation, Waller could employ his abundantly fertile wit to make his point—and have the last word.

 

 

 

Ed Kirkeby

Fats Waller promotional handbill

(click image to enlarge)
Undated letter from Fats Waller
to Ed Kirkeby

 

 

The only issue
of Swing Music, December 1939

Ed Kirkeby, far left, on tour with Waller and His Rhythm in Dallas, 1940

 

Ed Kirkeby and Fats Waller, 1941

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