Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It

Overweight jazz pioneer who can barely be contained in three CDs

Harlem-preacher's son turned pianist-organist and bar singer, Fats Waller defied the racial odds to become a pop star in the '30s. When he died at 39 in 1943, he'd scored more hits than fellow crossover virtuoso Louis Armstrong. But he's been poorly served by CD reissues until this three-disc collection. Legendary producer Orrin Keepnews avoids chronological mishmash by dividing Waller's immense output into originals, instrumentals and covers. A prolific tunesmith who wrote "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Ain't Misbehavin'" with the great black lyricist Andy Razaf, Waller got big by yakking up such supposed trivia as "Your Feet's Too Big" and "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie." And though his stride and swing were always muscular, he could tickle the ivories like the classical artist he yearned to be.

Blender, Nov. 2006