The legend that’s continued after Fats Waller’s untimely death is that he was marvelously creative but also an outlandish clown, especially when given poor material to record, undermining it with mocking asides and jokes.  But I treasure those times when he respected the song and showed us what a tender singer he was.  The performances below aren’t comic or anarchic; there are no uptempo stride extravaganzas.  But gentle feeling shines through every note.

FAIR AND SQUARE is a song I came to love through performances by Lueder Ohlwein of the Sunset Music Company, a whole rhythm section and glorious singer on his own.  The composer credits are usually given to Andy Razaf and Leo Robin, although one HMV record label assigns the song to Harry Woods, I think in error:

I first heard this very sweet song because of Melissa Collard’s 2004 memorable recording.  But Fats did it first:

This performance sounds as if Fats is going to launch into hilarious mockery, but he doesn’t.  The songwriters Charlie Tobias and Sammy Fain knew how to transform cliches.  Wait for the lovely piano coda:

Here, also, Fats trembles on the edge of amusement, but chooses to focus on the song’s essential sadness:

Lovely music and lovely sentiments from Thomas Waller.

May your happiness increase!


  1. Well, I thought I knew a lot of songs, but you just introduced me to three new ones. Thanks!

  2. My work on the planet is done. Happy New Year in advance, Mark!

  3. Wow, is this ever lovely.  What a wonderful thing to wake up to.   Thank you!

    And I can’t believe I ever said that contemporary trad jazz bands are essentially cover bands.  Shame on me.  Do you remember that?  I bet you do. “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful” is surely an inspired pick…

  4. Along the same lines, one of my favourites is ‘Romance a la Mode’ recorded for the British market and with a vocal chorus by the Deep River Boys.

  5. Very nice post as usual, Michael, proving there is a huge quantity of great songs out there for bands to play. I always tried to do my part in this regard with my musical adventures. (As an aside, I recall the night a customer came up to me in New Orleans and said “I’ve been listening to dixieland all my life and I didn’t recognize ANY of the tunes you played!”) I don’t think it was meant as a compliment but it WAS for me!

    This comment is for Gretchen. I’ve never really understood why some people can be so hung-up on bands playing what is now now referred to a “cover songs.” Not every musician or bandleader is a composer, and quite frankly, I think I can speak for many of my colleagues playing early jazz and swing who love the material written by people who were songwriters of the past who were masters – especially those who are not among the usual suspects of “The Great American Songbook” (I would include Waller as one not generally associated with the GAS). I never thought I could write anything closely approaching the quality of those great writers of the past, nor would I want to. Ultimately musicians choose the things they enjoy playing, and the hope of most is that the audience will enjoy both their repertoire and their performances.

  6. Don ""Zoot" Conner

    Fats’ greatness and popularity is epitomized by all the responses you receive, Michael. I loved him too.

  7. Good Morning Michael
    Firstly very best wishes and a Happy New Year to you
    Your piece on the romantic Fats Waller got me to play again his recording of Poor Butterfly, no vocals on it but you don’t need to know the words to get the meaning of the song after listening to him play. Just wonderful.
    Warmest regards John

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