Depending on his mood, Fats Waller could be ‘the cheerful little earful’ or ‘the harmful little armful’. Usually, he was both, winning a huge following in the 1930s and ’40s with his high-spirited, satiric takes on run-of-the-mill popular songs. But jazz fans and musicians prized his glittering piano style.
Some of his colleagues believed that his subtler side was frustrated by the non-stop levity that his popular reputation required. That frustration may have fuelled the heavy drinking which, along with his exhausting routine, led to his death at 39 in 1943.
In 1926, Al Capone had his thugs kidnap Waller, & they took him – blindfolded, to play piano at a 3-day Capone birthday party. Waller said he was payed really well, treated nicely, & released, exhausted, but with a pocketful of cash, when the party finally ended.