Fats Waller and Deep River Boys record in the RCA Victor Studios, New York, July 13, 1942. (top left)

Waller at RCA Studios New York,July 13, 1942. (top right)


Musical Selection: Honeysuckle Rose
New York, November 7, 1934
Breakin' the Ice: The Early Years Part 1 (1934-35)
Bluebird/RCA 66618


   
 
 
         
 

 

 

Attempting to come to terms with Fats Waller's recorded output can seem a daunting task at first because he was so extraordinarily prolific. The history of his recording sessions spans his entire professional career, from the time he was 18 years old (when he cut his first discs, in October 1922, a session at which he recorded two piano solos) to his final session on September 23, 1943, less than three months before his death. During these twenty-one years of activity as a professional musician—when he made hundreds of live appearances in shows, clubs, on tour, and on radio—he made over 600 sides, in almost every conceivable format: on piano rolls; as accompanist for singers; as soloist on a variety of keyboard instruments, including piano, pipe organ, electric organ, and even celeste; as a sideman under leaders like Fletcher Henderson, Jack Teagarden, and Ted Lewis; as a sideman with small groups (Morris's Hot Babies and McKinney's Cotton Pickers); as a leader of his own small ensembles ("Fats Waller and His Buddies," "Fats Waller and His Rhythm," "Fats Waller and His Continental Rhythm"); on transcription discs designed for broadcast on radio; as a singer in each of those formats; and even on one occasion as one of a team of duo pianists (with Bennie Paine).

Any scheme that attempts to classify this vast body of recorded material, then, needs to take into account both the category of performance and the chronology of Waller's recording sessions. This chronology can be roughly (and somewhat arbitrarily) divided into five periods or groups: October 1922-November 1926 (a kind of apprenticeship for Waller; these

recordings show him as fully capable in whatever musical task he was assigned, but there are only occasional flashes of the brilliance and inventiveness that would characterize his later playing); November 1926-September 1932 (Waller's first maturity, a period that includes numerous sessions at the Victor Talking Machine Company's newly refurbished studio in Camden, New Jersey; the recordings Waller made at this studio during these years constitute some of his most original and compelling solo stride piano and pipe organ playing); May 1934-July 1938 (years during which Waller recorded regularly for Victor with the small ensemble called "His Rhythm"; many of the songs he was given to perform are perhaps some of the most banal and superficial examples of Tin Pan Alley hackwork imaginable, yet Waller consistently turned in renditions that were polished, original, and often wickedly satirical); August 1938-June 1939 (including Waller's two series of London sessions in 1938 and 1939, sessions with "His Rhythm" in New York, and air checks of numerous radio broadcasts); and finally, June 1939-September 1943 (commercial recordings made in New York, Chicago, and Hollywood; air checks of radio broadcasts; recordings on V-discs and transcription discs for delayed radio broadcast; jazz versions of opera excerpts and folk songs; and serious performances of African-American spirituals. In many of these late recordings Waller manifests some of the most intriguing improvisations of his career, often incorporating passages of surprisingand surpassingelegance and delicacy.)
         
 
         
 
 
Waller recording in Chicago on January 12, 1940 with John Hamilton, trumpet; Gene Sedric, clarinet and tenor saxophone; John Smith, guitar; Cedric Wallace, bass; and Slick Jones, drums.
 
 
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