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Jitterbug Waltz (1942)

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Origin and Chart Information
There are relatively few jazz recordings of waltzes prior to the 1950s, so it was surprising to many when...Waller composed this tune in 1943.

- Chris Tyle

Rank 200
Written by Fats Waller

Thomas “Fats” Waller and His Rhythm introduced “Jitterbug Waltz” on their March 16, 1942, RCA Victor recording date.

When Waller composed “Jitterbug Waltz” he was 38 years old and at the high point of his career as a veteran recording artist for RCA Victor, making the occasional movie appearance, broadcasting on radio, and traveling the United States and Europe on an incredibly hectic and tiring schedule. It’s not surprising that by 1943, after years of work and overindulgence, his body gave out.


More on Fats Waller at JazzBiographies.com

“Jitterbug Waltz” was inspired by some piano exercises that Waller’s son Maurice had been practicing on the piano. Fats and his band were appearing at the Panther Room in Chicago in early 1942, a gig they had done the previous year which had led to Waller’s composition “Pantin’ at the Panther.” According to Fats’ manager Ed Kirkeby in his biography Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Story of Fats Waller, it was during the six-week stint at the Panther that Waller penned the number and Kirkeby came up with the title. Two months later Waller recorded it in New York.

Although Waller was mainly known as a pianist, he was a fine organist and had made many solo pipe organ recordings in the 1920s for Victor Records at their recording studio located in a former church in New Jersey. Waller loved playing the organ, which he had learned as a youth while a member of the choir at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. When he was on tour with his band and able to find an instrument he would delight in playing Bach for whomever might be listening. By the late-1930s and early ‘40s many recording studios had acquired Hammond organs, hence Waller’s use of it on his March 16 session.

Dinah Washington recorded a vocal version of “Jitterbug Waltz” in her 1957 Fats Waller Songbook with a lyric by Charles R. Grean and Maxine Manners which describes the dance:

You find a combination
Of a lovely waltz
That’s played in syncopation
And you have the jitterbug waltz

In 1978, as part of the Broadway musical on Waller’s life, Ain’t Misbehavin’, director Richard Maltby, Jr. wrote a new lyric for the piece. The lyric describes a pair of dancers, late in the evening at a band performance, and even though they are tired they still find romance in the waltz:

The night is getting on
The band is getting slow
The crowd is almost gone
But here we are still dancing

However, “Jitterbug Waltz” is almost universally performed as an instrumental. Only a handful of vocalists have taken on the challenging melody, although Abbey Lincoln performed Maltby’s lyric on her duo recording with pianist Hank Jones in her 1992 CD When There Is Love.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Jitterbug Waltz”

Original Key Eb major
Form A - B1 - A - B2
Tonality Major throughout
Movement After an upward third, the melody of “A” descends in a pattern of downward fourths that sound almost like an etude. “B” is constructed from major and minor thirds and ends with a series of ascending triplet figures.

Comments     (assumed background)

A spunky little piece in 3/4 time, this is a reflection of the fun-loving humor that pervades most of Waller’s compositions. Although Waller conceived this as an instrumental piece (for piano), Richard Maltby, Jr. added lyrics in the 1970s for the Broadway revue Ain’t Misbehavin’. Because of the descending fourths (kept diatonic and therefore creating a tri-tone at one point), as well as the quick chromatic passages in “B,” it requires a great deal of vocal training and experience to pull off an effective performance.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Free Chord Changes

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
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By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

There are relatively few jazz recordings of waltzes prior to the 1950s, so it was surprising to many when pianist/vocalist/bandleader Thomas “Fats” Waller composed this tune in 1943, when he also recorded it (on organ, his other instrument) with his short-lived big band.

The tune has been recorded by a wide range of jazz artists, from cornetist Bobby Hackett’s live version in 1951 to pianist Chick Corea’s in 2001. A live concert version from 1971 has Hackett teaming up with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, ably supported by a group that includes the incomparable Mary Lou Williams.

A couple of big band recordings worth attention are the 1953 version by the English band led by Ted Heath, Dinah Washington’s vocal version from 1957, and arranger/conductor Michel Legrand’s album with trumpeter Miles Davis from 1958.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Fats Waller
Very Best of Fats Waller
Original recording 1937
Bobby Hackett
Back Stage with Bobby Hackett: Milwaukee 1951
Jasmine Music 374

Chick Corea
Past, Present and Futures
Stretch Records 9035

Dizzy Gillespie
Giants/Portrait of Jenny
Collectables 5616

Ted Heath
Strike Up the Band/Fats Waller Album
Dutton Vocalion

Dinah Washington
Golden Classics
Collectables 5200

Michel Legrand
Legrand Jazz
Polygram Records 30074

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Jitterbug Waltz.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

It practically goes without saying that Fats Waller’s own recording of his “Jitterbug Waltz,” from 1942, (Very Best of Fats Waller) is an important point of reference for learning the tune; Waller is featured here on organ. Erroll Garner’s elegant 1949 trio version (Jazz ‘Round Midnight) offers a contrasting approach, as does Eric Dolphy’s edgier version from 1963 (Conversations).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Erroll Garner
Jazz ‘Round Midnight
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1949

This early recording by Garner’s trio is elegant and slow, featuring lush block chords as Garner interprets the melody.

Art Tatum
Solo Masterpieces 3
Original Recording 1953

Pianist Tatum is both harmonically and rhythmically exploratory on this expansive performance. His signature displays of technique are largely absent, with his touch and ingenuity taking precedence instead.

Junior Mance
Happy Time
Original Recording 1962

Pianist Mance offers a swinging, elegant trio rendition of “Jitterbug Waltz.” Bassist Ron Carter and drummer Mickey Roker contribute to the bluesy, rhythmically playful feeling.

Eric Dolphy
Jazz World
Original Recording 1963

This performance is modern and edgy but not without reverence. In addition to a powerhouse flute solo by Dolphy himself, there are great solos by Woody Shaw on trumpet, Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone and Eddie Khan on bass.

Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy's Big 4
Original Recording 1974

Tempos and groove are toyed with here by trumpet giant Gillespie and his all-star sidemen, guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Mickey Roker. Between funk and multiple tempos of swing, the quartet plays effortlessly and creatively, with some particularly fine late-career trumpet work by the bandleader.


- Noah Baerman

Joe Sample
Soul Shadows
2004 Verve 283402
Original recording 2004
Ex-Crusader pianist Sample proves he has chops on this solo effort. His style and passion are reminiscent of the ragtime masters, and the result is a sharp, intriguing, contemporary interpretation of the song.
Abbey Lincoln/Hank Jones
When There Is Love
1994 Verve 314519697
Original recording 1994
Pianist Hank Jones slows the song to a mid-tempo, and Lincoln’s vocals cascade elegantly over the late night mood he sets. A warm and inviting rendition that revels in the lyrics.
Greg Osby
The Invisible Hand
2000 Blue Note 20134
Original recording 2000
Osby’s alto saxophone draws out some interesting figures as he paints the Waller piece with a bop brush. His off-tempo take makes for an interesting interpretation, a reinvention as invigorating as the original must have been in its day.
Peter Leitch
A Special Rapport
1994 Reservoir Records 129

Guitarist Leitch modernizes this Waller tune at a brisk tempo with bandmates pianist John Hicks, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith.

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Fats Waller

Year Rank Title
1942 200 Jitterbug Waltz

Andy Razaf and Fats Waller

Year Rank Title
1929 15 Honeysuckle Rose
1932 378 Keepin' Out of Mischief Now
1929 744 Blue Turning Grey Over You

Fats Waller and Clarence Williams

Year Rank Title
1925 171 Squeeze Me

Alex Hill and Fats Waller

Year Rank Title
1931 686 I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby (And My Baby's Crazy 'Bout Me)

Harry Brooks, Andy Razaf and Fats Waller

Year Rank Title
1929 32 Ain't Misbehavin'
1929 432 Black and Blue

Harry Link, Billy Rose and Fats Waller

Year Rank Title
1929 702 I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling

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