May 21, 2009
FATS WALLER (1904-43) lives in some impossible space between Paganini, St. Augustine, and James Brown. Tracks like “Handful of Keys” show Fats challenging Art Tatum in sublime stride-piano ostentation. But Waller was also fearlessly upfront in his depictions of tougher aspects of Harlem culture. Listen to “The Joint is Jumping” for references to rent-party violence, sexual licentiousness, and mass arrests. But who really believes that Fats “Ain’t Misbehavin”? It’s precisely his self-reflexiveness, cherubic bravado, and sense of a perpetually postponed repentance that puts him decades in advance of contemporary performers who try to commodify the urban black experience for the voyeuristic gratification of mainstream audiences.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Hardboiled (1894-1903) and Partisan (1904-13) Generations.