Posted by Benson
Minor Drag is an instrumental piece originally performed by Thomas “Fats” Waller. Although Waller’s family was originally from Virginia, they moved to New York before Fats was born. Fats grew up in Harlem, and later launched his career there under the tutelage of renowned Harlem pianist James P Johnson.
|James P Johnson|
Like Rosetta Howard, Fats grew up in a stridently evangelical household. His early musical experience came from playing harmonium at his father’s church when he was ten years old. Fats’s serious introduction to what his father called “music from the Devil’s workshop” was when he started practicing with Johnson. In 1922, Johnson was asked to take over piano at a club on Fifth Avenue and 135th street called Leroy's. Johnson couldn't do it on account of having to do a show, so he recommended Fats, which launched his career.
Like Johnson, Fats was a pioneer of the "stride" style of jazz piano, a unique musical style that helped to transform then-popular ragtime piano into Jazz. Stride is also significant in that it was a departure from New Orleans jazz that began to shift the staccato of New Orleans-style jazz into a more "swinging" style that grew in popularity throughout the late 1930s and 40s.
Stride piano, or Harlem Stride as it is sometimes called, is an improvisational style with a more swinging, steadier beat than ragtime. The player’s left hand tends to move or “stride” up and down the keyboard, which is how the style got its name. Stride itself is somewhat distinct from the Jazz piano style popularized in New Orleans at the same time by folks like Professor Long Hair and Jelly Roll Morton. The New Orleans pianists tended to have a more rustic or “out of tune” style with a harmony layered above the melody. Jelly Roll also preferred walking bass lines in sixth as opposed to the stride style in which the left hand bass was more often walked at an octave or tenth.
Minor Drag therefore comes out of a more East Coast than New Orleans sound. Even so, songs like Minor Drag had a significant impact on the development of Jazz around the country. Minor Drag first appeared with Ain’t Misbehavin, which Fats recorded for Victor Records in 1929.