Fats Wright

A biography in progress by Tee Dooley
If you have any information or a photo to add to this effort, or know of any recordings that Tee can use in a tribute CD, please contact me.

Clyde Wright was a Roanoke native who should have been hailed as one of the most talented musicians to come from the area. Unfortunately, despite the pleadings from such music industry giants as John Hammond to record, he steadfastly refused to do so. In his earlier years, he played house parties and played boat dances in Bedford with a local group. The boat dance was actually a fully equipped, yet memorable, boat house that sat at the edge of the lily-filled Town Lake.

As time passed on, he married and had two sons, Clyde Jr., now deceased, and Wesley, still active and living in Newark, NJ, by his first wife. This marriage ended in divorce. He eventually landed in a great music city at the time, Philadelphia, where he performed with such jazz notables as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He was Charlie Parker's pianist when Parker played in town. This was duly noted years ago when McCoy Tyner said that he used to stand outside of the old Blue Note in Philadelphia, when he was too young to be admitted to the club, and listen to Fats play with "Bird" which was Parker's most notable nickname. Tyner has become a noted jazz pianist in the meantime and was a long time pianist with John Coltrane among many other jazz giants.

While in Philadelphia, Wright married his second wife, who later passed away at a young age. This marriage produced a son, Andre ("Butch") and a daughter, Shirley. He wrote two songs, "Sorta Playful" and "Shadows" and together with his wife, they wrote "Wish" and "Wishful Thinking", two beautiful ballads.

After the passing of his wife, his mother in Roanoke became ill and he had to return home to take care of her and the children. He played just about everywhere there was music in the Roanoke area at that time, and one of the most memorable gigs was the Sunday night jam session at Shirley's BBQ on Williamson Road where in town and out of town musicians played on a regular basis.

After purchasing a Lowry Festival organ, his opportunities for playing opened up every possible place to play, including the Telephone Lounge farther up Williamson Road and a casino-type club in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. although he continued to work with trios, quartets and larger groups and solo piano jobs in private clubs.

One early part of his career that has been overlooked is the time he spent playing in Washington, D.G. with jazz groups and with a big band called The Washingtonians that included tenor sax player, Charles Rouse, who later became a mainstay in the Theolonius Monk Quartet until Monk's death. Possibly, the Washington era preceded his move to Philadelphia.

Among other notables in jazz that Wright performed with included the master jazz guitarist, Johnny Smith, now retired, bassist Jymie Merritt, bassist Spanky DeBrest, drummer Specs Wright and he notably served as the accompanist for the great vocalist, Dinah Washington during the Philadelphia era of his career. This was in addition to his working with John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

A highlight in his career occurred quite by accident in the mid-1960's at a house party at musician, Tommy Gwaltney's house in Virginia Beach at the time of the first Virginia Beach Jazz Festival. "Fats'" playing drew the attention of noted jazz writer, George Hoefer of Downbeat Magazine in New York. His efforts helped to land Wright in a two week engagement at the famous Village Vanguard in New York City starting on August 3, 1965, splitting the bill with Sonny Rollins. The first week he played as a solo pianist and then played through August 15 in a trio setting with Tommy Bryant on bass and Jo Jones on drums. Among the notables attending his opening night were Miles Davis, organist Shirley Scott, pianist Ray Bryant, Dan Morgenstern of Downbeat magazine, George Hoefer of Downbeat magazine who had facilitated the Vanguard gig, and a host of musicians. He was billed in the New Yorker magazine in the Vanguard ad as the legendary jazz pianist, Clyde "Fats" Wright.

After the Vanguard engagement, Wright returned to Roanoke and worked in local clubs until late 1967 when a call from an agent in Washington, D.O. landed him an audition at a local Georgetown club, Clyde's. After a most successful audition, Wright worked this club and several others in D.C., such as The House Where Louie Dwells, a hangout for Congressmen at the time, and many others in the vicinity of the Capitol. He continued working until he passed away from complications of heart disease and diabetes on May 19, 1973 in DC General Hospital.

ūTo: Mr. Kennedy/Tee Dooley Subject: Info related to Clyde "Fats" Wright-Pianist I am not sure where this information fits chronologically in the life of Fats Wright, but it may be included at your discretion. My name is Hubert S. "Rabbit" Jones, a bass player from Charleston, West Virginia. I had the pleasure of playing almost three years with Fats and a drummer from Charleston, West Virginia by the name of Frank Thompson (another drummer from St. Louis by the name of Bob Thomas also played on occasion in Frank's place). Fats used a trio most of the time, however, he would include horns as needed. Hollis Wagstaff-Tenor Sax and Jimmy Banks (who led Lloyd Price's band). We played for the most part at BJ's (my sister Bethelene Jones') night club and restaurant, the Crazy Horse Cafe, Palm Garden, all of the country clubs, the Clover Club in White Sulphur Springs, and Workshops for the Music Department of West Virginia State College. Hollis Wagstaff and I traveled to Roanoke, Virginia and played with Fats on Henry Street and later at the Hotel Spencer Roane in their fabulous ballroom. Most musicians considered Fats as one of the leading great pianists in this country. I like to say his style was excellent and included the expertise and tastes of Art Tatum, Earl "Fatha" Hines. Billy Taylor, and Oscar Peterson. Fats arrived in Charleston shortly after his experiences with Charlie Parker, Percy Heath, etc. in Philadelphia. The CD I am sending you was first recorded on an old rickety reel-to-reel, transferred to 8 Track, then to a Cassette Tape by me and later to a CD by my brother William Jones. The quality is not very good but you can readily recognize Fats' style on what I have left. I am slightly familiar with the Roanoke scene since I played many, many times in the recording studio located in Salem. Jim Hall (Drummer/Guitarist-North Texas State) and I played in the studio and then accompanied the groups we recorded with, in the Caverns there.