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A Tribute to Fats Waller & His Music

Jazz Crusade JCCD3047




1. The Minor Drag

2. Curse of an Aching Heart

3. Cabin in the Sky

4. What’s the Reason?

5. LuLu’s Back in Town

6. Honey Hush

7. Truckin’

8. Rosetta

9. Black & Blue

10. Christopher Columbus

11. I Used to Love You

12. Two Sleepy People

13. Your Feet’s Too Big

14. Yacht Club Swing

15. Ain’t Misbehavin’

16. Music Maestro Please

17. Oh Looka There Ain’t She Pretty?

Geoff Cole – Trombone, vocals (tracks 7 and 15)

Tony Pyke – Clarinet, alto sax

Pat Hawes – Piano, vocals (tracks 2, 11, and 13)

Ken Matthews – String bass

Colin Miller – Drums

Tom Waller – Commentary & analysis

Recorded Dave Bennett Studio, England, on Feb. 2 & 3, 1999.

Thomas Wright Waller, known to the world as “Fats” Waller, was one of the foremost practitioners of stride piano. As well as being a fine jazz pianist and, occasionally, organist, he was also a prolific composer with more than four hundred songs copyrighted under his name as composer or collaborator, often with Andy Razaf having written the lyrics. Many others were most likely never attributed to him as stories are legion about Fats exchanging songs for hamburgers or selling outright the copyrights of others for a few dollars to purchase gargantuan meals with which to satisfy his prodigious appetite, producing his considerable girth and nickname.

In addition to all of that he was a considerable humorist, satirizing some of the pedestrian songs he had to record and, at the same time, giving swinging renditions to many of these same songs. Some of his compositions have become standards, part of the American Song Book, such as Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Honeysuckle Rose (the former on this disc, the latter not) with lyrics by Razaf.

It is no surprise that Waller became the stuff of legend: witness the stories about him and Al Capone and the three-day party, or his and Eddie Condon’s riding in a cab to a recording session and Waller composing Minor Drag as they rode along in the cab, for example.

Given all of that, the question of what to include or allude to in a tribute to this giant is one that Cole and company had to consider, and they seem to have found a happy medium by way of an answer. Wisely they eschew a pastiche, although they do adhere to the group size of Waller’s Rhythm. Waller invariably had a quintet or sextet; Cole has the former, although it does not include a trumpet, as did Waller’s. But the piano is not front and center here, as it is with Waller’s groups. As to the vocals that one always associates with Waller, the two musicians who sing on this CD (only on five of the fifteen tracks) do not seem intent on imitating Waller. Of the two perhaps Hawes comes closest to sounding like Fats, particularly on Your Feet’s Too Big. Cole does not sound like Waller in the least. So all told the “sound” of this CD is not “Wallerish,” but the “feeling” is.

What to include from the wide array of Waller recordings is a decision which would be quite personal. We get no clues as to how the choices were made, but certainly many if not most of the selections will be familiar to anyone who has any acquaintance with the Fats Waller groups and records. Some are more well-known than others, perhaps: Ain’t Misbehavin’; Your Feet’s Too Big; Black and Blue (although Waller never recorded this tune)—others less so: Honey Hush; What’s the Reason; I Used to Love You.

As to the tempi, Waller in the main tended to take these at a faster clip than does Cole, but the more leisurely pace does not seem to me to be detrimental, although there may be just a slight loss of the excitement that the Waller renditions achieve on such tracks asChristopher Columbus or Ain’t Misbehavin’ or Oh Looka There Ain’t She Pretty? The slower tempo also results in a less raucous treatment than Waller gave in his recording of each.

Perhaps to keep firmly before us that this is Fats material that is being handled, someone made the decision to lift some of Fats’ comments (I see little by way of analysis that the back case inlay refers to) from the Waller recordings and drop them in here, either at the end of a track (as those on track 10 or track 13) or at the beginning (as that on track 13 or track 14). Not all relate to the song to which Fats attached them—witness “One never knows, do one?” taken from Fats’ Your Feet’s Too Big and tacked on here to Minor Drag.

It was something of a tragedy that Waller died of pneumonia at the early age of 39 on December 15, 1943 while travelling by train from California to New York. Despite his rather short life, he left a substantial body of work, and Cole and friends present us with some of the highlights of that oeuvre as a reminder and as a fitting tribute. It is good to have this reissue of this recording (the initial one titled “One Never Knows – Do One?”) available again. One can once more savor the Cole group’s excellent interpretations and be reminded of what a treasure Waller was.

Jazz Crusade CDs are available on the Upbeat web site as well as from on-line sites such as Amazon.ere

Bert Thompson


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