[Monday Notes no. 72] Fats Waller was one of the greatest interpreters of the stride piano. A pupil of the great James P. Johnson and precocious in playing and composing music, as was often the case with black musicians he came to success more because of his skills as an entertainer than his value as a musician.
In fact, many African American artists mixed excellent music with the art of entertainment. These were indeed musicians who had grown up in an entertainment world very different from future scenarios; jazz was the music for diversion, not music to be listened to in religious silence.
I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter is a delightful song composed in 1935 by Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young. The lyrics state, “I’m gonna sit right down here and write myself a letter, and then make believe it came from you”.
The idea contains an ironic vein but also a hint of subtle melancholy. The song is very well crafted due to the perfect match of lyrics and music in the first phrase, the metrics are absolutely flawless, and the phrase sticks in our memory as only the most successful melodies can do.
I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, first motive
In this performance Fats Waller plays lightly and elegantly. He first performs the theme in its entirety with the piano, playing mostly in whole chords, lightly arpeggiated and enriched by sporadic flourishes.
At minute 1’14” we can appreciate Fats Waller as a singer. The pianist interprets the song with sweetness and simplicity, accompanied on clarinet by Rudy Powell. After the vocal exposition, Bill Coleman performs a short but very beautiful trumpet solo (2’18”).
Both the piano introduction and the subsequent clarinet and trumpet interventions are completely in line with the content of the song: the instruments sound as if suspended, enraptured by a sweet fantasy of love. And little does it matter, the music seems to say, that the fantasy is the result of a little trickery. Dreaming is sweet, this piece reminds us of that.
If sometimes things don’t go exactly the way we want, let’s sit down and write ourselves a love letter.
Until next Monday!