Farber will be joined both nights by pianist Eric Lewis in relating the history of Fats Waller through words, song, and dance in "The Music of Fats Waller" (Rose Theater, 8pm). Next door in The Allen Room "Fats Waller: A Handful of Keys" will be swinging with pianists Judy Carmichael, Dick Hyman, and Marcus Roberts. Showtimes are 7:30pm and 9:30pm both nights; there is also a free pre-concert discussion with Farber.
Born Thomas Wright Waller (1904 _1943), "Fats" as he became known, was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, and comedic entertainer. Waller started playing the piano at age six. At age 14, he was playing the organ at Harlem's Lincoln Theater and within a year he had composed his first rag. Fats Waller was inducted in the Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2005.
Today, Waller's influence as an entertainer is felt worldwide. Farber notes that Fats was a master stride pianist, influencing the next generation of piano players that included Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, and Mary Lou Williams. "As a composer," says Farber, "Waller is right up there with George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, and Cole Porter. Many of his tunes are standard repertoire today. Much like Gershwin's 'I Got Rhythm,' countless songs have their harmonic structure based on Waller's 'Honeysuckle Rose' or 'Ain't Misbehavin.'"
Farber cites Waller, along with Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, as some of the first singer/songwriters in American popular music. "Like Louis Armstrong," says Farber, "Waller was a great entertainer and serious artist who could thrill the 'average Joe' while appealing to the discriminating connoisseur."
Marcus Roberts explains that stride piano involves the use of both hands to develop a piece, with the left hand jumping from the low register to the middle register to produce syncopation and groove. "The left sets the pulse, and the right interacts with that pulse," Roberts notes. "It's the natural development after ragtime piano and New Orleans piano, where the left hand's role is the more functional role. In stride piano, the left hand is all over the place. It's a very difficult technique as you integrate the two hands at these fast tempos and Waller really consummated that style completely. He gave the best illustration of how the stride piano should be played. People that came after him, like Art Tatum, had a lot to work with: all of us who came after him."
Roberts is delighted at the prospect of a Fats Waller Festival. "His impact on the music went beyond piano," he says, "beyond jazz: he's an American institution.
Pianist Judy Carmichael also has fallen in love with the mystique of Fats Waller. She reminds us that he was exemplary as a composer, pianist, singer, and entertainer. "His contributions in each of these arenas alone would have been enough, but he did it all," she says. "I show films of Fats in my master classes and he's just as appealing today as he was in the 1930s to people of all ages."
"I connect with Fats' energy, sense of humor, and positive spirit," Carmichael continues. "I find him a continuing source of inspiration. I learned to play stride from listening to early Basie records initially, and then listening to Fats. He and Basie had a powerful, but still light, fluid way of playing stride, where a lot of the other guys pounded and labored over it."
Come join the joyous, timeless sounds of stride piano at Jazz at Lincoln Center next month and hear the best of Waller's wondrous and whimsical works in the spectacular performance halls of Rose Theater and The Allen Room. "Ain't Misbehavin'" "Honeysuckle Rose," "Jitterbug Waltz": all of these masterpieces will be honored at the Fats Waller Festival. "Take his influence as a songwriter and a composer and then you add all that piano technique," Roberts concludes, "and I just say to myself 'that's what I wanna be when I grow up.'"
For more information, visit jalc.org.