Happy birthday Fats Waller!


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Fats Waller (May 21, 1904-December 15, 1943) was an American jazz pianist, composer, singer, and entertainer. He toured and recorded among some of the era's greats including Sara Martin and Sidney Bechet.



Waller was born Thomas Wright Waller in New York to Adeline Locket Waller and Reverend Edward Martin Waller. He spent his childhood at his father's church, and after learning to play piano at the age of six, began playing organ at the church. When he was 15, he became the organ player at Lincoln Theatre on 135th Street. Within 12 months of obtaining that position, he had composed his first rag. He made his first recordings at the age of 18 in the form of two piano solos called "Muscle Shoals Blues" and "Birmingham Blues."




After his mother died in 1920, he moved in with the family of the pianist Russell B. T. Brooks, through whom he met James P. Johnson. Johnson would go on to became very influential as his tutor.

In 1922, the same year he made his first solo recordings, he also recorded as an accompanying pianist to many artists including Sara Martin, Alberta Hunter, and Maude Mills. In 1923, he collaborated with Clarence Williams to produce Wild Cat Blues, which featured the Blue Five, including Sidney Bechet.

Throughout the 1920s, Waller played with many jazz greats and began recording with Victor Records, the principal record company he would record under for the rest of his life.



Some of his most notable compositions include "Handful of Keys, "

Smashing Thirds," "Numb Fumblin," "Valentine Stomp" (all from 1929),



and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" (1938).



In 1926, Waller was kidnapped as he left a performance in Chicago. He was bundled in a car and taken to Hawthorne Inn, owned by Al Capone. He was brought into the building and ordered to play. He was the special guest at Capone's birthday party. He emerged three days later physically unharmed (aside from drunk and tired) and with thousands of dollars in tips in his pocket.

Waller enjoyed international and domestic success throughout the 1930s as well, appearing in one of the first BBC broadcasts.

He appeared in several films, including Stormy Weather (1943).

His recordings "Ain't Misbehavin'" (1929) and "Honeysuckle Rose" (1934) were later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

He died of pneumonia he contracted on a cross-country train trip near Kansas City, Missouri.




Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 21 May 2014
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