Musical selection: Spreading the Rhythm Around
New York, November 29, 1935
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down . . . The Early Years, Part 2, 1935-36
Bluebird/RCA 66640-2


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The Institute of Jazz Studies collection of Waller memorabilia includes several drafts of music in Waller's hand. These are basically early attempts (first versions or rough sketches) of songs Waller was writing, made in pencil on music manuscript paper. Different drafts in the collection can probably best be understood as distinct stages of Waller's compositional process. The first stage would have consisted of a single melodic line on one staff ( "Foolin' Myself"). Waller also occasionally wrote out single melodic lines on manuscript paper he had already prepared for the accompaniment by linking two staves into a single brace, as if either chord indications or perhaps a more complete piano part were to be added later ( "Middle O' De Road", "I Would Rather Die [Than To Live Without You]", and "Gotta Get You Off My Mind"). The next stage, a developed draft, would consist of a melodic line accompanied by chord indications designated by letters and numbers ("Do It All Over Again"); a somewhat more elaborate version of this stage is represented by the skeletal outline of the piano part itself ("Blue Dawn/Theme Song"). The draft of "Blue Dawn" also includes Waller's characteristic shorthand symbol for repeating a phrase or group of measures that he had used earlier in the same song—that is, numbers that indicate which measures are to be repeated (e.g., "1-4"). A third stage consists of a fully worked out, two-stave piano version of the song ("You're Givin' Your Lovin' [To Somebody Else]", "My Song of Hate", and an untitled song which is actually "Squeeze Me"). The final stage, of course, would be the completed version of the song in vocal score (a brace of three staves): a separate staff for the melody and lyric linked to two staves beneath it for the piano part ("If You Don't Want Me").


In addition to these piano drafts and vocal scores, the collection includes some instrumental parts in Waller's handwriting (for "Walkin' The Floor" and "Spreadin' Rhythm Around"). Though the 1935 copyright of "Spreadin' Rhythm Around" attributes the music to Jimmy McHugh, the fact that these parts are in Waller's handwriting argues strongly that he, not McHugh, was the original composer of the song (see Machlin, "Fats Waller Composes", Annual Review of Jazz Studies 7, 1994-95, pp. 1-24). Finally, there are also a few individual sheets of manuscript paper on which Waller has made the preparations necessary to begin composing—he has written the title of the song and his name at the top of the page, grouped the staves into braces, and even indicated the key and time signatures—but has left the rest of each sheet blank, even though some of these prepared pages are accompanied by a set of hand-printed lyrics with the same title (by Spencer Williams, Waller's earliest collaborator), obviously intended to be set to music by Waller.


These significance of all these documents lies in the evidence they provide for Waller's approach to composing popular songs. They demonstrate, too, that Waller had an intuitive grasp of the elements of a successful Tin Pan Alley song: the basic 32-bar chorus formula (four phrases of eight measures each organized in an A-A-B-A scheme in terms of musical material), melodies that are fresh, stylish, and completely suited to the accents and inflection of the lyrics, and a harmonic language enriched by novel and colorful details. Though often providing only a minimal outline of the music, the sketches and drafts in the Institute of Jazz Studies Collection clearly served Waller's creative purposes well; from them he could conjure complete and elegant final versions of his songs.




Andy Razaf

'I have written songs with many writers, but I have never found one to equal Fats Waller as an all-around composer of all types of music. Music seemed to flow from his fingertips like water from a fountain.'

Andy Razaf, Fats Waller collaborator

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