Above is a video snippet from a television show in the 1960’s, hosted by the Jazz critic, Ralph Gleason. Earl “Fatha” Hines talks and demonstrates on the piano what he learned and how his piano style developed.
To me, this was an ironic discovery. I had a disagreement with a man who wrote a biography of Art Tatum. This biographer contended that Art Tatum was mistaken when he said that Fats Waller was Tatum’s greatest influence. He said Hines was the greatest influence on Tatum. I won’t name names or further embarrass the man, as otherwise, I think he wrote a good book about Tatum. But, I think it was highly presumptuous to imply that Tatum was confused about how his piano playing techniques evolved.
Tatum was widely quoted as saying, “It all came from Fats” But, the author of the biography relied on a comment by Teddy Wilson that Tatum had listened to Earl Hines records and really liked Hines’ piano playing. In his argument, the author said that Tatum’s runs were like Hines’ runs. It’s a silly argument. Hines did not invent runs on the piano. Fats Waller also played runs on the piano. Hines’ runs were like what Jelly Roll Morton described as a New Orleans style extended break between the riffs, in his Library of Congress Oral History with Alan Lomax. As I explained in my first post on Tatum, Tatum used a technique in his runs all his own.
So, it is an ironic twist in the above clip that I discovered by accident that Earl Hines said he learned his left hand technique from a man who taught him to play the tune Squeeze Me. Squeeze Me was written by Fats Waller!
Here’s Fats playing and singing his tune Squeeze Me, which he composed in 1925. There was a controversy between Andy Razaf and Clarence Williams about who wrote the lyric, but Fats was not involved in that issue. Fats had sold the publishing rights to Williams who hired Razaf to write the lyric and then “forgot” to pay him.
Anyway, musicians listen and learn from other musicians all the time. I recall a story told by a widely known Jazz critic in the liner notes of a Tatum LP record. He was in a night club with Tatum listening to what the critic said was a terrible piano player. The critic said that Tatum appeared to be enjoying this allegedly bad piano player and he asked Tatum how he could stand it. Tatum replied, “Every piano player has his story.”
Underestimating Fats Waller is a mistake. I think a number of people have either been fooled or perhaps insulted by his clowning and comedy. At some level, I suppose, it infuriates them that he doesn’t take the music as seriously, as say, John Coltrane.
But, Fats Waller was an entertainer. He wanted people to enjoy his music and have fun. The talent it took for him to play piano at his level while singing mugging, and joking about the lyrics was amazing. It was also perhaps threatening to some people. Jazz musicians became much more serious in the 1950’s and afterwards as the audiences for their Jazz music slowly began to dwindle away.
As an added bonus in that first video snippet, Earl Hines does a great job of showing and explaining how he learned to play the piano and become a professional musician. I’m not one of those people who thinks that because you like one guy you have to find something wrong with the other guy. Unfortunately, the clip ends just as Hines was getting warmed up.
Thanks to Chaldean Assyrian Jazz Man for the Earl Hines clip;
Thanks to Dominik Feri for the Fats Waller You Tube.
Bumped from Last Friday