Thomas "Fats" Waller had an idea. He chuckled gaily, and stamped his foot with enthusiasm. "Yassuh!" he laughed. "You is gonna c'mon downstairs to de boys' dressin' room and hear dose cats swing on down in a jam session!" He trotted to the elevator, his blue bathrobe swirling to expose a mighty calf. "Are you gonna bring up dat machine fo' yo' Mister Waller, Dad " he called down the shaft. "Lo's go!"
It was after his afternoon performance at the RKO-Boston on Saturday, but down in the dressing room five of his boys were playing something soft and sweet on their saxophones. Fats grinned with pride and said that this was one of his latest compositions, "Jealous of Me." In a corner, writing on a dressing table, sat Dick Donaldson, arranger for the Waller orchestrations, writing notes by the dozens.
"This here's Slick Jones, mah drummer," explained Fats, pointing toward a wavy - haired youth. "We calls him Slick because if you dean watch out, he'll sneak off with yo' woman. You tested indignantly, but Fats went on to know, Slick as in slimy." Slick prosay that his real name is Wilmore. A shriek of laughter came from the five saxophonists. Unperturbed, Slick said that cold chills came over him when he heard Andre Kostelanetz and his orchestra. Asked if he didn't lose weight after his torrid drum solos several times a day, Slick said no, he seemed to gain instead.
The saxophonists swung into "Honey-suckle Rose." "Whoa-boy," yelled Fats, "the joint is jumpin'." He explained this expression by saying that it meant a Harlem night spot crammed with well-liquored joy-seekers, with a swing band jammin' it. He further explained that the Big Apple, which he is featuring on the RKO-Boston stage with his band, originated not in the South, but right in the Savoy ballroom in New York City.
"Anyway," said Fats, "the words 'Big Apple' is just slang for New York. And it ain't nothin' new, neither, it's just a conglameration of de Susie Q, de Shag, Peckin', Truckin' de Westchester, and de Peabody."
From another corner came the sound of "de big bass," and a tall, toothy colored gentleman added a little rhythm to the saxes. Behind a rack of dinner coats came the delicate gyrations of a cornet, and a powerful, perspiring man in his undershirt could be seen literally wrapping himself around his instrument.
The music swelled and filled the small room with a throbbing harmony. Slick Jones stood there, mouth agape, until he couldn't stand it any longer. He slipped out the door, and in a moment returned with his snare drum and cymbals. He got to work immediately, grinning from ear to ear. He is famed for wearing out a drum-skin once a week, and wearing out a pair of sticks every performance.
"Wait a minute, boys," said Fats, "let Eugene take the second break!" Eugene Sedric took it, and his tenor sax rippled up and down the scales. "Why dat cat's crazy," yelled Fats. Eugene just closed his eyes with ecstasy.
The musicians swung into "Sugar Rose." Fats squealed with delight. "Git ready fo' de jam now!" The boys got ready, and went into a wild jumble of hot rhythm. A clarinet player popped up somewhere and made his instrument screech an improvised sing-song. Fats, his tremendous bulk bobbing in time, shouted hoarse encouragement to his boys. With a final, incomprehensible flourish by the saxes, the jammin' stopped. "Dose cats can take yo' socks right off yo' shoes," gasped Fats.
He chatted awhile, and said that his latest song is called "What Will I Do in the Morning." Fats calls it his "nine-dollar" song because he spent that much for the "Scheherazade" album by Rimsky-Korsakoff, from which he has borrowed the theme. He likes college audiences and says that playing for them is "mah greatest thrill!"
His greatest ambition, though, is to have a 26-piece orchestra. In his present performances he uses 15 men, and in his recordings he uses only six. After he gets his bing gang together, Fats wants to have a chain of orchestras. "I wants to grab all dose cats that sings and put 'em in Fats Waller units," he said. Fats' favorite colored band is Fletcher Henderson's, while his pet white orchestra is Tommy Dorsey's. He prefers Ambrose to Ray Noble.
Fats doesn't like swing. He says it's going into "a modernistic throwaway." "Jus' give me something sofe, something sweet, something sentimental," he whispered. The latest thing, though, is the swing waltz. He heard one in Iowa that was "a killer."
Fats Waller left the dressing room and shouted for the elevator to take him up to his own room again. As he was about to step inside, the faint sounds of an insane, improvised jam tune wafted his way. He shook his massive head with pleasure, waggled an enormous after-deck, and croaked at his interviewer, "Yah-man! De joint is jumpin'!' And it was!.