Stories & Cast Interviews

Thursday, January 17, 2019

This Joint Is Jumpin' with The Music Of Fats Waller!

Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, January 17, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz, the musical revue Ain't Misbehavin' premiered in 1978 on Broadway as a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance, when black musicians played at Manhattan clubs frequented by members of high society.
Thomas “Fats” Waller rose to international fame during the Golden Age of the Cotton Club and that jumpin’ new beat, swing music. He was a legendary composer, singer and comedian, picking up the nickname “Fats” because of his girth, Waller was famous for his Harlem stride piano style — alternating bass notes with the left hand and melody with the right — which laid the groundwork for jazz piano.

Waller made is first recording in 1922 and was a prolific songwriter, composing many familiar songs such as “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” both with his most frequent lyricist Andy Razaf.
By 1926, he was so popular that while at an engagement in Chicago he was kidnapped to appear at Al Capone’s birthday party. He wrote for the early all-black Broadway shows Keep Shufflin' (1926), Load of Coal (1928), and Hot Chocolates (1929). Waller headlined several radio shows, most notably “Rhythm Club,” which featured Fats Waller and his Rhythm Sextet. Later he composed Early to Bed (1943), the first non-black Broadway show composed by an African American. Over the course of his lifetime, Waller published more than 400 original songs.

One day in the Dayton, Ohio Public Library, A teenaged boy by the name of Murray Horwitz, checked out Fats Waller's album Valentine Stomp. He realized Waller was the greatest jazz pianist who ever tried to make people laugh, and the greatest comedian who ever played jazz.
He partnered with lyricist and director Richard Maltby Jr., and helped to create Ain’t Misbehavin’. The show combines songs that Fats Waller composed, collaborated on, or recorded in his signature style. The reason for the success of the show, Murray Horwitz insists, "was overwhelmingly the excellence and universal appeal of Fats Waller.”

It was a process of putting Fats Waller's music, his wit and his gargantuan personality on the stage -- it was a kind of play-writing all the way through, using those five characters to represent Waller.” Said Richard Matlby Jr. “It's all about dealing with an unfair world. This is a world in which black artists had to use the back stairs rather than the lobby. They never complain about it, they deal with it with language.”

The original Broadway production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ opened on May 9, 1978 and ran for 1604 performances. It won that year’s Tony Award, Outer Critics’ Circle Award and Drama Desk Award, all for Best Musical. Nell Carter, Ken Page, Andre DeShields, Charlaine Woodard, and Armelia McQueen starred in the original production. Richard Maltby Jr. was the director, Arthur Faria, an expert on 1930s dance, choreographed the show and Luther Henderson, who adapted Waller's music for the revue, was the production's original pianist. 

Today, Ain’t Misbehavin’ retains its popularity as an energetic, musically rich show. Over sixty years after Fats Waller’s last performance, new audiences are meeting and falling in love with him again.

“Fats gives us a way to make sense of modern life. What is even more astonishing is that he makes us smile – and often laugh – as he does it,” said Murray Horowitz.