May 21, 1904; his parents were Edward Waller, a Baptist lay preacher, and Adeline Waller who played the organ and piano.
Waverly, New York
December 15, 1943; he died of pneumonia on board the Santa Fe Chief train during a stop over at Union Station in Kansas City.
Also Known As:
Thomas "Fats" Waller was a jazz organist, pianist, singer, composer, conductor and bandleader of small bands during the 1930s. He also appeared on films like "King of Burlesque," "Hooray for Love" and "Stormy Weather."
Instrument and Musical Style:
Fats Waller was a jazz pianist and all-around entertainer. He is said to be the first musician to use the pipe organ and Hammond organ in jazz. He also wrote a series of pieces for solo piano under the title "London Suite," this includes "Piccadilly," "Chelsea," "Soho," "Bond Street," "Limehouse," and "White Chapel." It is his longest composition recorded while he was in Britain.
Fats Waller received early exposure to music through his parents. He began playing the piano at age 6 and played the reed organ during his father's religious services at Abyssinian Baptist Church. At 15 he was organist at the Lincoln Theatre. When his mother died in 1920, he moved into the home of Russell Brooks, a pianist. It was there where he met James P. Johnson who became one of his teachers. He also studied under Carl Bohm and Leopold Godowsky. He played at various venues and accompanied blues singers as he slowly made his mark in the music industry. Waller's Carnegie Hall debut was on April 27, 1928.
In 1934 he signed an exclusive contract with Victor Records producing a series of records with a small band that would be known as Fats Waller and His Rhythm. They produced hits like "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "The Joint Is Jumpin'," and "Your Feet's Too Big." Other hits include "Ain't Misbehavin,'" "Blue Turning Grey Over You" and "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now."
Birmingham Blues and Muscle Shoals Blues was the first record he made when he was 18. He collaborated with lyricist Andy Razaf for the Broadway shows "Keep Shufflin'," "Hot Chocolates" and "Load of Coal." He also wrote music for the musical "Early to Bed." Fats' own compositions include "Crazy 'bout My Baby," Minor Drag," "Handful of Keys," "Harlem Fuss," "Numb Fumblin'," "Viper's Drag," "Stealing Apples," "St. Louis Shuffle," "Smashing Thirds," "Valentine Stomp" and "Whiteman Stomp." Other collaborative works include "Black and Blue" and "Honeysuckle Rose."
He earned the nickname "Fats" due to his large girth. At the time of his death he was doing extensive US tours, recordings and appearances. Aside from lyricist Andy Razaf, he also collaborated with Clarence Williams, George Marion Jr. and Stanley Adams. One of the singers Fats Waller accompanied was blues singer Bessie Smith. Waller was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
Listen to Song Sample:
Watch Fats Waller performing "Ain't Misbehavin'" courtesy of YouTube.