Fats Waller is, for me, an emblem of the creative artist’s response to oppression. First and foremost, what I feel most strongly about Fats is that he is the marvelous, mischievous, creative American Mozart of Tin Pan Alley. He won’t be defined or stopped by anyone. Shakespeare wrote reams of subversive plays that drew implicit parallels to what he thought of the mismeasure and misrule of his own times and society. In Shakespeare, there is an education in our own humanity, if we are open to our own feelings of being alive. The roots of jazz and the blues have the same basic imperative: feel. Understanding is secondary to life, experience is primary. Even if one’s feelings are despair and ennui, as in the broken marches of the Blues, feel them; and, once the gates of perception have been cleansed by honestly feeling what you feel, one must inevitably do more than just feel them, one must sing them. Art is a moral response to being alive. The world is a forest of varying experiences–from the soft subtle Georgia breeze that tinkles against the poor man’s bottletree making a random angelic choir in a dirt yard, to the ‘strange fruit’ of the famous blues tune that describes lynchings in the American South, with dead men and women hanged for no more reason than the color of their skin. Despite such terror and such despair, Waller’s Falstaffian joy for life is as immense as the sun; and that joy bulls through all the bullshit that burdens us.