Ben Vereen and company jam to the music of Fats Waller
BY DAMASO REYES | 4/12/2011, 5:32 p.m.
Jazz legend Thomas "Fats" Waller was many things: master composer and pianist; groundbreaking singer and film star; bon vivant and man about town. But first and foremost, he was a New Yorker. Born in Greenwich Village, he moved to Harlem as a child and first performed at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church before going on to compose and perform hits like "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Ain't Misbehavin'." So it was fitting that Jazz at Lincoln Center held a tribute to his music and life right here in his hometown. Ben Vereen hosted an intimate gathering of singers and musicians and helped us place Fats Waller in the pantheon of musical greats where he belongs.
"He was not only a composer, but a great entertainer," Vereen said of Waller during the show. He died tragically young at age 39, but before he passed on, he left us with a cannon that others would envy and most would perform.
Led by music director and noted saxophonist Andy Farber, JALC's Rose Hall was jumping to the sounds of Waller hits, including "All that Meat and No Potatoes," "The Joint is Jumpin'," "Two Sleepy People," "Your Feet's Too Big" and "Handful of Keys," wherein pianist Ehud Asherie not only nailed the difficult to master style of stride piano, but gave it his own unique flourishes.
While Waller was a virtuoso in his own right, he was also a bandleader and, as such, wrote pieces so that the members of his extended musical family could also shine. When Job-Erik Kello performed "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" on the trumpet, it was both moving and transcendent. Guitarist Doug Wamble starred on several numbers, giving the audience a taste of what it must have been like to be in Kansas City during one of Waller's performances.
Not unlike with classical music, some in the jazz world have sought to enshrine and preserve the music like some kind of museum piece. But what made the music great was that it was influenced by the times and places in which it was created and performed. Far from being static, the music at Rose Hall was lovingly reimagined for this time and place. It was true without being nostalgic; informative without being dull. Fats would have been proud.