By Stephanie Weber
Al Capone was a dangerous criminal, but the notorious Chicago mob boss was just as notorious for having a good time. The only problem with his love of drinking and partying was that he typically did that by breaking the law.
It is likely no surprise then that for his twenty-seventh birthday, Capone didn’t just invite his favorite jazz musician to his birthday party. He kidnapped him.
At first Waller was forced to play by gunpoint, but after the party started he loosened up a little and admittedly had a great time.
It was 1926, and Capone was turning 27. He and his henchmen were planning a party at one of his favorite haunts, The Hawthorne Inn in Cicero, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.
Capone was a big fan of jazz and frequented jazz clubs whenever possible. He was especially fond of piano prodigy Thomas “Fats” Waller, who dominated the jazz world in the 1920s and 30s. Capone’s henchmen figured Waller would be the perfect jazz musician to kidnap and surprise Capone with! They devised a plan for kidnapping Waller and making him Capone’s 27th birthday gift.
One night while leaving a show at The Sherman Hotel, Waller felt a revolver in his side. With a gun to his body, he was forced into a black limo.
He had no idea what this was about and was absolutely terrified as the limo made its way out of Chicago city limits. The limo stopped at the now legendary Hawthorne Inn, and Waller was led straight to the piano with a gun pointed at his back.
Waller was literally a birthday gift to Al Capone from “the boys.” And Capone loved it. At first Waller was forced to play by gunpoint, but after the party started he loosened up a little and admittedly had a great time.
Having a good old time
He was relieved to find out that he wasn’t going to be killed and that this just a private concert held by intense mobsters. The night may have started with Waller’s life flashing before his eyes, but it ended with champagne.
The party reportedly raged for three days where Waller was able to collect thousands of dollars in tips from patrons. Waller loved to party just as much as Capone did, which helped the pair get along famously as they revelled in jazz music and whiskey.
Waller never did play for Capone again. Instead, he went on touring until his early death in 1943 at the age of 39 due to alcoholism. Capone on the other hand was famously done in by tax-evasion.