He had an unerring instinct of how
to harness his skill to realize compelling musical ideas through
improvisation. In almost every recording he made (and that constitutes
a very extensive chronicle), he molded the musical material to his
own aesthetic ends, varying every aspect of the original songfrom
applying dazzling ornamental details to individual notes or gestures,
to stretching and changing the basic shape of a standard32-bar chorus-to
create what often amounted to an entirely new piece. Like all stride
pianists, Waller developed a repertoire of "tricks"brief,
decorative figures (just a few notes in some instances), usually
but not exclusively for the right hand, which could be used to produce
a long line of artful decoration.
Moreover, he made every phrase swing,
creating a propulsive, infectious momentum through the use of strategically
placed accents, elegant articulation, and frequent syncopation.
These characteristics, all essential to jazz but realized by Waller
with particular originality and energy, are evident in his work
not only as a soloist on piano and pipe organ, but also as a singer
and member of his own small ensemble, "Fats Waller and His
He was indeed the consummate
jazz musician, possessed of an assured and flawless technique, supportive
and self-effacing as an accompanist, yet brilliant and engaging
as a soloist.