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Fats Waller: The Complete Associated Transcription Sessions 1935-1939

In the 1930s, when he and radio were in their heydays, the medium helped Fats Waller to become a popular success. Without sacrificing forcefulness or swing, Waller managed to translate James P. Johnson’s stride piano lessons into a less complex style, capture the general public and forge a transitional link to players as dissimilar as Art Tatum and Count Basie. He projected his enthusiasm and personality into his playing and singing, and he expressed them through the sextet known as Fats Waller and His Rhythm. Recording the Associated transcriptions for stations to broadcast as mini-programs, he used many of the pieces from his RCA Victor repertoire, but the radio versions were hardly duplicates. Waller’s creativity, humor and irrepressible showmanship made every piano solo and vocal a fresh performance.

This collection highlights his finely honed instinct for programmatic flow. It is most evident on the first CD, which is comprised of programs from 1935, where Waller is alone except for brief appearances by Cedric Wallace on bass and Rudy Powell on clarinet and alto saxophone. Waller’s patter and asides draw the tunes together in medleys perfectly timed to radio requirements. He plays at the top of his game and sings-whether clowning or serious-engagingly and impeccably in tune.

The 1939 edition of the combo has 16 tracks in this transcription series, with fine solos from saxophonist Gene Sedric, the little-known trumpeter John Hamilton and Waller. In addition to pieces familiar from his Victor recordings, the set includes Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top,” a great stride performance of Waller’s “Russian Fantasy,” a sober, deliberate solo arrangement of “St. Louis Blues,” a “Poor Butterfly” with harmonic experimentation and an explosive combo version of “Nagasaki.” Waller recorded none of them before or after the Associated dates.

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