Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ella Fitzgerald: Ken Burns Jazz [Verve, 2000]
Suffering and subtlety may be the way of truth, but though I've revered Billie Holiday for 40 years, they're not the only way. First time through this rocket ship of an argument for Fitzgerald as blithe spirit and improvising musician, I was put off by the opener, her first and biggest hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." It was so silly, so girly. But as she floated through the closer--the almost as flighty "Shiny Stockings," once again with words by the artiste--it dawned on me that she sounded just as girly at 45. And that was 1963, by which time she had outscatted everybody this side of King Louis, defined the pop canon, and ebulliently declared to her impeccably credentialed jazz combo, "I wanna rock, I wanna roll." Girly was so much her gift that it's too bad there isn't anything later--she was still making young records past 60. There were many things she didn't understand--that's why the token "blues" is a pop song about blues. But there was plenty Billie didn't understand too. Ella outlived her on the difference. A+