Personalities | Fats Waller | Twenties | Jazz & Blues

(Piano, vocals, composer, 1904–43)

Thomas Wright ‘Fats’ Waller developed his playing style during the early 1920s under the tutelage of Harlem stride pianists James P. Johnson and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith. The son of a Baptist preacher, he began playing in the church and by the age of 15 was the house organist at the Lincoln Theatre. He first recorded for OKeh aged 18 and shortly thereafter met lyricist Andy Razaf, who became a key collaborator on popular tunes such as ‘Honeysuckle Rose’, ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ and ‘(What Did I Do To Be So) Black And Blue’ as well as successful musicals Keep Shufflin’ and Hot Chocolates.

By 1924 Fats was well known for his piano rolls, radio broadcasts and extroverted, off-the-cuff, jivey performance style. He also flaunted dazzling piano work on many instrumentals, including ‘A Handful Of Keys’, ‘Smashing Thirds’ and ‘Jitterbug Waltz’. Waller recorded with a sextet in the mid-1930s and by 1940 was a household name.

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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