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!