As a Harlem youngster in the 1920s, Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904-1943) developed a music career as a pianist, organist, bass violinist and composer. The late musician’s style of his music had elements of swing, early jazz, and jive.
During the famous “Roaring Twenties,” he wrote his first two masterpieces, “Keep Shufflin’” and “Hot Chocolates.” Eventually he performed at Carnegie Hall, a year before his untimely death.
Waller first learned to play the piano from James P. Johnson, who is most famous for writing “Charleston.” In the early ’20s, Waller made a living playing jazz. He played the organ at parties and in movie theaters.
Waller sang “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in the 1943 film Stormy Weather. The mood in it was exuberant, confident and joyful. The lyrics were by Andy Razaf while Waller wrote the music with Harry Brooks.
“Ain’t Misbehavin” is one of Waller’s most famous pieces. He pounded out the tune on the piano, together with a drum and horn accompaniment. His voice was deep, assertive, bellowing, and irreverent at times. The presentation was delivered forcefully with light staccato interspersed occasionally on the piano. His memorable words were: “I’m through with flirting/It’s you I’m thinking of.“
Waller had some other memorable quotes which still resonate with fans today. For instance, he stated, “Grab your pig’s feet, bread, and gin, there’s plenty in the kitchen. I wonder what the poor people are eating tonight?”
Waller was a first rate jazz artist, a top pianist, an excellent showman and comedian. Throughout the ’30s and early ’40s, Waller was a star of radio and night clubs and toured Europe. He composed hundreds of musical pieces over his 39-year life, which were whimsical, cheerful, joyous, humorous, and raucous, among other descriptions. His life was tragically cut short unexpectedly in December of 1943 due to bronchial pneumonia.