Waller's touring activity began in earnest in 1934, about the same time he entered into an exclusive recording contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company. First Phil Ponce and later Ed Kirkeby, the two managers of Waller's career most responsible for fostering the relentless pace of engagements the pianist undertook during the last decade of his life, arranged tours throughout the United States, with Waller fronting both a large ensemble and his small band, the "Rhythm." Later, in 1938 and 1939, Kirkeby organized two solo tours of England in which Waller performed at several theaters on the English variety circuit; on the first of these tours he was also able to travel to Scandinavia for additional appearances.


Responses to Waller in person were somewhat different in England and Europe than in the United States.

  At home, Waller's performances, like those of most touring jazz ensembles in the1930s, were mainly considered occasions for dancing rather than listening, especially among African-American audiences. (Whites would have been more likely to encounter Waller at clubs, where patrons could engage in either dancing or listening—or both.) In Europe, however, audiences tended to treat Waller's performances as concerts, and, as Waller himself commented, would listen enthusiastically but also respectfully to his playing. Moreover, they responded warmly to the persona Waller always projected—that of a genial and warm-hearted, if also a witty and satiric, comic. English critics may have found Waller's stage activity distracting, but audiences seemed to understand, as Waller would have wanted them to, that his humor was central to the shape and pace of his performance as a whole—it was as integral to his artistry as his music.
© Copyright 2002, The Institute of Jazz Studies Rutgers University Libraries