Playing Tenths, Inventing R&B, Serenading Some Jailbait

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Fats Waller
The Centennial Collection
Bluebird

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I've fallen in love with "(Do You Intend to Put an End to) A Sweet Beginning," from Fats Waller's The Centennial Collection. Hardly one of Waller's signal recordings, it nevertheless gives a glimpse of the many wondrous things he could do: a bit of celeste, a striding piano solo full of tenths that show where Teddy Wilson came from, a self-mocking vocal, and poof, a drossy 1930s pop novelty turns into gold. The critics who argue Waller's stardom resulted in a net loss for jazz piano are being churlish. You could as easily say he laid the foundation for r&b, and as formulaic as his records gradually became, they were the first to give America some clue of what a Harlem rent party sounded like. Though a better way of celebrating Waller's centennial would have been for Bluebird to restore to circulation its seven multi-disc sets of the 1990s, this sampler includes most of his hits, some radio broadcasts, and a pair of influential solo piano recordings. As a bonus, there's a DVD featuring Waller soundies, an artsy animated short based on "Your Feets Too Big," and a tantalizing clip from King of Burlesque in which he performs "I've Got My Fingers Crossed" and then accompanies the 16-year-old tap dancer Dixie Dunbar—an eroticized Shirley Temple who later supplied the legs for a dancing pack of Old Gold cigarettes in an unintentionally surreal 1950s television commercial. "Look-a-there," Fats exclaims, nervously eyeing the jailbait. He always did have a knack for saying exactly what his audience was thinking.

 
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