Hank Jones: 'A Handful of Keys: The Music of Thomas 'Fats' Waller'

The cover of A Handful of Keys: The Music of Thomas "Fats" Waller

[MUSIC]

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: Well that's two-fisted piano playing at its finest as befits a tribute to the great Fats Waller. It's played by Hank Jones, one of the most consistent and excellent jazz pianists of all time. And Murray Horwitz, tell us why its in our NPR Basic Jazz Record Library.

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Well, A.B., you know it's a thin line you and I walk. We want to identify essential recordings of jazz, but that doesn't often allow us to feature contemporary artists. But in this case, we can do both. This is a first-rate solo piano CD that's pretty recent — recorded in 1992. And even though music is not an all-star game, I think you wouldn't get much argument, if you said to a jazz musician right now "The greatest living pianist is Hank Jones."

[MUSIC]

HORWITZ: Hank Jones has been playing this music for well over 50 years, accompanying Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie. It's hard to think of a great musician he hasn't played with. Besides his legendary impeccable technique and musicianship, he brings to his playing a warm, engaging musical personality, wonderfully inventive harmonies, melodies and rhythmic ideas, and a terrific sense of fun and wit.

SPELLMAN: Well, you could say the same thing about Fats Waller.

HORWITZ: Right. Hank loves Fats Waller, and he spent the better part of two years playing his music every night on Broadway in the musical Ain't Misbehavin'. Full disclosure department here: I had a hand in writing that musical. And like Fats Waller, he uses all of the instrument — technically and in its expressive range. To use a dreadful adjective, it's fully "pianistic," as is the work of all the greatest jazz piano masters: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Jelly Roll Morton, and Thelonious Monk. And like Fats Waller, Hank Jones shows you how hard one man can swing.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: So, we are recommending Hank Jones' A Handful of Keys: The Music of Thomas 'Fats' Waller for your NPR Basic Jazz Record Library. For NPR Jazz, I'm A.B. Spellman.

HORWITZ: And, I'm Murray Horwitz.

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