Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fats Waller

He would have been 104 today.

From his wikipedia entry:

An excellent and much copied jazz pianist, Waller is considered one of the very best to have played in the stride style. With a touch that varied from subtle and extremely light to very powerful, he was a master of dynamics and tension and release. However, it was his singing, songwriting, and lovable, roguish stage personality that sold his hundreds of recordings for RCA Victor, in a day when much of society did not recognize jazz as "serious" music. He played with many performers, from Gene Austin to Erskine Tate to Adelaide Hall, but his greatest success came with his own five- or six-piece combo, "Fats Waller and his Rhythm". Fats Waller was such an impressive and talented pianist that he came to the attention of the rich and famous—- sometimes whether he wanted to or not. Waller was in Chicago in 1926 and, upon leaving the building where he was performing, he was kidnapped by four men, who bundled him into a car and drove off. The car later pulled up outside the Hawthorne Inn, owned by infamous gangster Al Capone. Fats was ordered inside the building, to find a party in full swing. With a gun against his back, Waller was pushed towards a piano, whereupon the gangsters demanded he start playing. A terrified Waller suddenly realized he was the "surprise guest" at Al Capone's birthday party. Soon comforted by the fact that he wouldn't die, Waller played, according to rumor, for three days. When he left the Hawthorne Inn, he was very drunk, extremely tired, and had earned thousands of dollars in cash given to him by Capone himself and by party-goers as tips.[3]