Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1001 Albums Number 18

Ella Fitzgerald – Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book

Our third consecutive female jazz vocalist is the most famous of them all, Ella Fitzgerald. As the title tells us, on this album she sings over the course of three long discs the songs of old timey songwriter George Gershwin.

Fitzgerald's voice is obviously deserving of it's reputation. When compared to Holiday and Vaughan she surpasses them with her strength and confidence, and while the other singers have their singular qualities, Fitzgerald's is the obvious candidate for iconification with her bold, poised and assured character shining through her singing. Even if you never knew who she was, you'd recognise her voice as it's solidly embedded in the public consciousness.

Gershwin's music deserves note too. This album is in the same musical style as Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin and the Frank Sinatra's albums but where I found the backing music of those recordings to be lacking substance, the guy whose name is in the album title is well done by here. His songs blend the accessibility of pop and the sophistication of classical, and his brother Ira's lyrics defy the cheesiness that's inevitable given the songs' Broadway origin and remain compelling and witty throughout.

There are two surprising omissions on this album. There are no songs from the Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, which is perhaps understandable given that Fitzgerald had already recorded an album of the whole opera (with Louie Armstrong), but I was really looking forward to hearing her acclaimed version of 'Summertime'. There's also none of Fitzgerald's scatting until the last track, which is a little disappointing since it was one of the things that she was most famous for.

This album clocks in at a fucking long 180 minutes, so it's a testament to Fitzgerald and Gershwin's considerable skill that I quite happily sat through the whole thing three times!

Next up: Ray Charles.

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