If You Got to Ask, You Ain’t Got It

This three-disc, 66-song set with lavishly illustrated 100-page book, detailed recording notes and extensive biographical essays by producer Orrin Keepnews is enough to keep any student of American popular music happily occupied for days. The recordings, made between 1926 and 1943, have been lovingly remastered, and the result is a bouncy, lively sound that makes toe-tapping and shoulder-shimmying virtually impossible to resist, even while you’re being fascinated by Keepnews’ fine writing. Waller was a prodigious songwriter, a fun-loving bandleader and a live performer who also loved interpreting other writers’ songs. The three CDs here are divided into 1: Sings and Plays Fats Waller, 2: Strictly Instrumental and 3: Sings and Plays Around with Tin Pan Alley, and each disc is packed with gems, such as the Waller original “Ain’t Misbehavin’” from disc one, the equally brilliant “Star Dust” from disc two, and the rollicking “Lulu’s Back in Town” from disc three. The focal point of each arrangement is Waller’s joyful singing and/or stride piano, but there is also tons of brilliant playing throughout from every member of his band, the Rhythm.