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Television Reviews : ‘Fats’ a Delight in Spite of Poor Treatment of Waller

Of all the jazz artists dealt with by Hollywood, none was more misunderstood and misrepresented than Fats Waller. “Fats Waller: The Joint Is Jumpin’,” a 48-minute film airing at 7 tonight on the Bravo cable channel, offers abundant evidence.

A pioneer of stride piano, Waller (1904-1943) became so well known as a comedy vocalist and all-around entertainer that his musical genius was submerged in all of his feature films and shorts. Even during the few piano solos here, the camera is not on his hands but on a bevy of admiring beauties.

“Honeysuckle Rose,” one of his best-known compositions, is accorded this treatment. “Do Me a Favor” and “Your Feet’s Too Big” suffer similarly. There is a brief snatch of Waller playing the pipe organ, but it’s sound-only, with stills for the visual counterpoint.

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Yet it is a delight to catch even these glimpses of Waller’s magic, and to observe the commentary by his son, Maurice, whose reminiscences about his father’s run-ins with Al Capone and others are enlightening, as are the remarks by musicians of that era, including Marshal Royal and Eddie Barefield.

Produced and directed by Howard Johnson, “The Joint Is Jumpin’ ” justifies itself through the light it sheds on the 1930s black social and musical jazz Zeitgeist.


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