Do you remember when you were studying history in school, and how extraordinary the events and people you covered were? And, despite that, did you ever feel like your teacher had the unique ability to turn everything that was exciting and remarkable into the most dreadfully dreary and boring material? Welcome to Marginally Interesting Moments in Musical History, a continuing series of bite-sized tidbits and trivia that may or may not be apocryphal, but always fun to read!
In this edition, we’ll recount the tale of the brief encounter between the famous stride pianist Fats Waller and the notorious mobster Al Capone.
Successful early in life, Fats Waller, composer of such hits as “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” found himself on the wrong end of the barrel of a gun after a performance in Chicago in 1926. Several men pushed him into a car, and the understandably terrified Waller anticipated an untimely demise. He was taken to a building and shoved inside.
Although for very different reasons, Al Capone, the Prohibition era gangster dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1,” was similarly successful early in life. On the very evening Waller was kidnapped, Capone was celebrating his birthday. He and his goons warmly greeted their surprise (and surprised) guest, Waller, who promptly was ordered to play the piano in the room. Waller did so.
Three days later, when the party concluded, Waller departed. Very tired and perhaps a little drunk, he had nevertheless enjoyed a prosperous outing. The partygoers evidently had appreciated the services rendered, as they had provided Waller thousands of dollars in tips.
Stay tuned for the next Marginally Interesting Moment in Musical History!