Fats Waller, Part II: "Ain't Misbehavin'"
[This article first appeared in the March 1977 issue of Contemporary Keyboard magazine.]
Transcribed below is the opening chorus of Fats Waller's unaccompanied solo version of "Ain't Misbehavin'," which he recorded on August 2, 1929. (The entire solo can be heard on the album of the same name [RCA, LPM-1246].)
Sweet are the virtues of simplicity. Waller, though a consummate technician as well as a great creative artist, demonstrates this fact conclusively in the introduction of this solo. The right hand is allowed to swing by itself as the left supplies whole-note points of departure for a figure that remains rhythmically unchanged for five bars. The chord progression includes the somewhat surprising (for its day) G9aug5 in the second bar, which leads to a Gm6, A7, and Fm6 before the predictable G7 propels him into the chorus.
Typically, Fats is respectful of the melody, and not just because it is his own. Notice the upward mobility of the right-hand line in bars 7-10, and of the heavily accented internal line from 17 to the high point in 21, after which the piece sails down with characteristic Waller elegance in bars 21-24.
After the repeat of the chorus, he moves (at letter C) into the little-known verse, a delightful example of his unpredictability in that the first pair of two-bar statements end on Db. Note the graceful ornamentation in bars 34 and 36, echoed in bar 38.
The left hand is restrained throughout, employing a sort of modified stride pattern during most of the chorus but moving up to parallel the right hand in bars 21-24 and letting the right hand carry the motion (as it did in the intro) in bars 33-39. Fats was capable of some extroverted, almost aggressive playing, but I tend to think of this example of his legato style as more typical of his unique keyboard personality.