If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It (Bluebird / Legacy)
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 20, 2006
If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It! (Bluebird/Legacy)
In a career that spanned just 39 years from cradle to grave, Harlem-born pianoman Thomas "Fats" Waller penned what you thought was a Willie Nelson tune ("Honeysuckle Rose"), what sounds like a Gal's Panic title ("Panic Is On!"), and the crushing ode to both the remarkable and the pedestrian ("Your Feets Too Big"). If that were all, it'd be enough, yet before his death in 1943, Waller's bouncy, bawdy style of "stride" piano imagine Scott Joplin's martial ragtimes on a fifth of Old Grand Dad became the hepcat beat to beat in post-prohibition, prewar juke joints and wherever else it mattered. As for the nickname, it fits Fats hand-in-glove and foot-in-spat: His fingers always shuffle or pirouette expansively, often explosively across every single track on this exhaustive, ecstatic 3-CD compilation, whether buoyed by Waller's scatting witticisms and double-entendre lyrics, or not. One whole disc is dedicated to Tin Pan Alley tracks, minus the kooky, boozy vocals ["(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal, You" is a rollicking standout], which brings to mind a more hefty Harlem version of no less than Vaudevillian keyboard gunslinger Chico Marx! It's a puzzle why Waller's star has dimmed in the public consciousness while contemporaries like Louis Armstrong, who noted "That Fats was a solid sender, yes, yes," remain closer to the popular spotlight. More so, even, when you realize that Waller not only dominated the airwaves with a weekly live radio broadcast (Fats Waller's Rhythm Club) but also the record shops of the day, maintaining a lengthy association with RCA Victor, and via two major Hollywood musicals, Hooray for Love and King of Burlesque. All that and "Ain't Misbehavin'," too? "You Must Be Losing Your Mind."