92Y begins a series of posts celebrating our Jazz in July summer festival with one of the funniest—and most infamous—stories in jazz history. It’s about the great stride pianist Fats Waller, whose music is the star of Jazz in July’s Opening Night on July 16.
Here’s the lowdown, as told by Nancy Caldwell Sorel in The Independent of London:
The ebullient young man with the dazzling jazz style was a big hit at the Sherman Hotel. His nightly audience included men with wide lapels and bulging pockets. One evening Fats felt a revolver poked into his paunchy stomach. He found himself bullied into a black limousine, heard the driver ordered to East Cicero. Sweat pouring down his body, Fats foresaw a premature end to his career, but on arrival at a fancy saloon, he was merely pushed toward a piano and told to play. He played. Loudest in applause was a beefy man with an unmistakable scar: Al Capone was having a birthday, and he, Fats, was a present from “the boys”.
How did it end? Hint: very well. So, what’s your best birthday present?