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.
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
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.