FATS WALLER: an awesome talent. Courtesy Photo.


When I was a kid, you were required to have a license for your bike (of course, no one ever did) and for your dog. But never even a test for the incredible undertaking of birthing a human and being responsible for them for some 18 years, body and soul.

If we did, that would probably stop the population explosion in its tracks.

But can you imagine the room full of monkeys tasked with coming up with that test? And it would probably change with every election.

I’ve seen it written, somewhere, that conservatives are just rabid about protecting that zygote, blastocyte and embryo, but once you take your first breath, baby, you’re on your own. Also, that Republicans have never shown as much interest in educating children as they are now that it could kill them.


I have a poster in my office from a now-defunct record chain that states simply, Music is Life. There are many ways to interpret that.

The older, conservative generation has always felt threatened by a new music or performer who shatters the mold. The Charleston would dance you straight to hell, boogie woogie was up to no good, and jazz, oh my, and all those, you know, dark skinned musicians who seemed to like to play it. Sinatra had ‘em nervous but Elvis got the preachers screaming from the pulpits, this will destroy our youth! No, but it did destroy your hold on them and was an important seed of integration and civil rights in this country. And that David Bowie, I mean, just what gender… ?


Was probably the first rock star, and could be considered subversive because he was a Hungarian nationalist, supported many social causes and also sketched but didn’t complete his Revolutionary Symphony. Who played him in the movie “Lisztomania”? The Who’s Roger Daltrey, of course.

Many witnesses later testified that Liszt’s playing raised the mood of audiences to a level of mystical ecstasy. Women would rush him after concerts for a strand of his shoulder-length hair and fought over his silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves, which they ripped to shreds for souvenirs. When he was 22, Countess Marie d’Agoult (pen name Daniel Stern) left her husband and children for him. They lived together for four years and she bore him three children. At 35, he met Polish Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein and they spent nearly 40 years together. Their plan to marry was quashed, at the insistence of her ex-husband, by the Russian Czar and the Pope.

Music and politics have always gone hand in velvet glove. And sorry, you local Trumpers who call out my music column as “propaganda,” but the vast majority of creative people lean to the left. You know, for the people. Which is why, as I wrote in NOTEWORTHY last week, so many are now insisting, in the courts, that The Donald stop using their music without their permission. You can’t always get what you want, Mr. President. Guess he’ll have to stage a spectacular no-mask concert with his superstar (and completely sane) buddies Ted Nugent on guitar and Gene Simmons of KISS on bass, with Kid Rock on vocals and Kanye rapping. And put Wayne Newton in the middle of it, danke. The mind boggles.


I didn’t forget. When you are so passionate about something all your life, like music, and it has brought you exquisite pleasure and fulfillment and even adventure, not to mention your dear jazz singer wife, you can’t help but think that when your daughter shares that passion and adventure and is so enriched by it, and even acknowledges you sweetly when she writes about it (see below), that you probably have already passed the test.

And now, a snapshot of a famous musician who you thought you knew, that may entice you to listen and learn more. After all, this is a double album, and it’s Volume IV.


LISTEN TO FATS WALLER — This past weekend my dad gifted me with more of my favorite thing— records from his collection! I’m still working my way through the latest stack, but one of the first albums I decided to play to accompany my Sunday morning was “The Complete Fats Waller, Volume IV.” I was already somewhat familiar with Thomas “Fats” Waller’s music, but as I was handed the record my dad said, “Fats Waller is fun, but he’s also a really superb musician,” and that stuck with me. Another gift I’ve inherited from my dad is an appreciation for liner notes, understanding that they can teach you so much. Well, I learned a lot from the ones on this record, written by Richard M. Sudhalter.

To summarize, Waller was a true entertainer and a sweet soul who was very good at making bad songs sound great, and while it’s difficult to prove, he always suspected the A&R guys at Victor records purposefully gave him a lot of lame songs because they knew he could spin them into gold. This peeved Waller to no small degree. Because of this, most fans knew him by his comedic showmanship and distinct, romping party-piano style, but close friends and musicians would tell you he was a serious musician who could play nearly any style with ease, as evidenced by songs like “Hallelujah” and “Poor Butterfly.”

For all the catchy, boisterous numbers he produced, it’s also said by friends that Waller sometimes felt unhappy because people were hearing only a fraction of what he was capable of. Even in these confines, Waller’s musicianship shines through, as the pioneer French critic Hughes Panassie once wrote, the records are “the closest recorded approximation of the way a jazz band actually sounds on the job, in a club.” Panassie also praised Waller as “the most perfect orchestral pianist jazz has ever known,” and he wasn’t the only one singing praises so don’t get sad thinking Waller never got his flowers. He was one of the most popular and beloved musicians of his time, and a treasured part of many American households.

Favorite track: “Lounging at the Waldorf”

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,500 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com