Monday, January 29, 2024

The NRR Project: 'Ain't Misbehavin''

‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’

Music: Fats Waller Lyrics: Andy Razaf

Fats Waller, piano

Recorded Aug. 2, 1929


If Ellington is our Beethoven, then Waller is our Mozart.

His was a spirit of life and joy. Anyone who listens to even part of his prolific output can really feel uplifted by his gregarious spirit and musical inventiveness. His constant joking and muttered asides on his recordings mark him as a clown prince of jazz, but they conceal his very real musicianship.

Thomas Waller was born in 1904 in New York City. He started playing the piano at age 6. At the age of 10, he added playing the organ to his talents, performing first in his father’s church, and later as a theater organist. He began composing, and studied under the great stride pianist James P. Johnson – and managed to study composition at Juilliard as well. Soon he was performing and recording without let or hinder.

This recording of one of his most famous compositions is instrumental only – Waller made a much more familiar recording with him singing and playing the song years later. It’s upbeat, inventive, and full of energy, a perfect expression of its composer.

It was written for the show Hot Chocolates, which moved to Broadway in June of 1929. There, Louis Armstrong, director of the orchestra, gained immediate fame by playing the tune on his trumpet onstage. Since then, it’s been recorded countless times by all sorts of artists.

Despite his impressive musical chops, some say Waller wasted his talent by recordings reams of inferior songs for quick cash. But even the corniest of tunes, given the Waller treatment, comes off as a playful tour de force. Those who have examined his entire catalog find much comfort in his giddy presence.

Any time you feel low, put on a little Fats.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: ‘Puttin on the Ritz.’

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