Tag Archives: The Cotton Club

Sunday Jazz Corner With Fats Waller

300x300

King of the stride, Fats Waller was a colorful comedic personality and jazz legend in the 20′s, 30′s and 40′s.  Waller was an influential pianist, composer, singer and comedic entertainer, whose innovations to the Harlem stride style laid the groundwork for modern jazz piano.  His best-known compositions, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Honeysuckle Rose were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame posthumously, in 1984 and 1999.

Fats Waller (Thomas Wright Waller), was born in New York City in 1904.  He started playing piano when he was six and by the age of fourteen he was playing the organ at Harlem’s Lincoln Theater.  Within twelve months he had written his first rag (ragtime) song.

By the age of fifteen he became a professional pianist, overcoming opposition from his clergyman father, working in cabarets and theaters.  Waller went on to become one of the most popular performers of his era, finding critical and commercial success in his homeland and in Europe.  He was also a prolific songwriter and many songs he wrote or co-wrote are still popular, such as “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Squeeze Me”.

He enjoyed success touring the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 1930s.  He appeared in one of the first BBC television broadcasts.  While in Britain, Waller also recorded a number of songs for EMI.  He appeared in several feature films and short subject films, most notably Stormy Weather  which you can view a video clip of below.  It was released in 1943 just months before his death.

Multi-talented Waller performed Bach organ pieces for small groups on occasion.  Waller influenced many pre-bop jazz pianists; Count Basie and Erroll Garner have both reanimated his hit songs (notably, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”).  In addition to his playing, Waller was known for his many quips during his performances.

Between 1926 and the end of 1927, Waller recorded a series of pipe organ solo records.  These represent the first time syncopated jazz compositions were ever performed on a full-sized church organ.

His final recording session was with an interracial group in Detroit, Michigan in 1943, that included trumpeter Don Hirleman.  Waller was returning to New York City from Los Angeles, after the smash success of Stormy Weather, and after a successful engagement at the Zanzibar Room, during which he had fallen ill.  He contracted pneumonia on a cross-country train trip near Kansas City, Missouri, where he died on December 15, 1943.  Coincidentally, as the train with the body of Waller stopped in Kansas City, so stopped a train with his dear friend Louis Armstrong on board.  Coincidence or providential?

More than 4,000 people attended his funeral in Harlem at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.  Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., delivered the eulogy, and said that Fats Waller “always played to a packed house.”

I highly recommend FATS WALLER “compilation” on iTunes.
CLICK ON PHOTO
Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 8.30.37 PM

See below 2 Videos by Fats Waller.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Stormy Weather (1943) – FATS WALLER

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter (1935) – FATS WALLER

Sunday Jazz Corner with Duke Ellington

Duke-Ellington-9286338-1-402

Duke Ellington’s last words were, “Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered”.  He was an American composer, pianist, and jazz-orchestra leader with a career that spanned more than 50 years.  Ellington led his orchestra from 1923 until his death.  He was born  April 29, 1899 and passed along on May 24, 1974.  He was known as a key participant of  the Harlem Renaissance era and his legacy lives on in Harlem and all around the world.

For this post I chose two video performances “Take The A Train” live in Harlem 1964, and a video of Ellington and his band performing “It Don’t Mean A Thing” back in 1943.

Duke Ellington married his high school sweetheart, Edna Thompson, on July 2, 1918, when he was 19.  Shortly after their marriage, on March 11, 1919 Edna gave birth to their only son, Mercer Kennedy Ellington.  Ellington was joined in New York City by his wife and son in the late twenties, but the couple soon permanently separated.  According to her obituary in Jet magazine, she was “homesick for Washington” and returned (she died in 1967).  In 1938 he met and moved in with Cotton Club employee Beatrice “Evie” Ellis, who with with him during his Cotton Club years in Harlem.  The relationship with Ellis, though stormy, continued after Ellington met Fernandae de Castro Monte in the early 1960s. Ellington supported both women for the rest of his life.

At his funeral, attended by over 12,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Harlem, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion, “It’s a very sad day. A genius has passed”.  He was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York City.  His reputation increased after his death and the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowed on him a special posthumous honor in 1999.

350px-Duke_Ellington_1

Duke Ellington in 1973

VIDEO: Duke Ellington Live in Harlem “Take The A Train” (1964) features Ernie Shepard on vocals.

VIDEO: Duke Ellington – It Don’t Mean A Thing (1943)