Tag: american songbook

Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald

 

My post yesterday was to say something worthwhile about Ella on her centenary. I tried to show her moderating effect on Cole Porter’s music. Let me summarize my remarks without repetition: Ella has power, but she has sweetness as well, and no one ever got a heart attack from her music. Her phrasing and diction have the wonderful power of removing from Porter’s wit his least attractive characteristic, his fickleness. Her command of the music allows the wit to shine but removes most of the sting. Her mood is not as ironic as his; instead, there is something better even than his self-deprecatory humor about his fickle love — she can console even as she pleases. This is a rare achievement and there is little more that I can do than signal it.

I will return to my theme, and give it a name. Ella Americanized Porter. I have joked here before that my contemplated book on Porter has a title already — Love We’d Prefer Immoral — and I will write about Cole Porter again. But Ella is the exception to that attitude. I want to talk to you again about her moderating effect as a singer, but in a surprising way: Not by a soft lyrical attitude, as before — but by jazz. I’ll talk to you about a number with much more swing to it, “It’s All Right with Me.”

Ella Fitzgerald’s Centenary

 

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald. I want to present her to you in the way that, so far as I can judge, shows best what is memorable about her. The singers may love something which we do not all know and the connoisseurs may have memories of her singing that we cannot all share. But the albums she recorded, especially the ones that recapitulate and thus justify the great American songbook, are a possession for all, and one of the small blessings that add joy to life.

My friend Mark would say something like this about Ella Fitzgerald, that she is at home wherever she chooses to sing, and she chooses freely. To understand what it means to be at home in being free in singing seems to me to understand the delight Ella offers and the cause finally of her dominating American popular music in her time. I want to show you a few things about Ella’s art and the poetic effects she desired to achieve and achieved effortlessly. I will look to the great American songbook, because Ella’s career, moving away from jazz and bebop, only attained to greatness when she turned to the standards in the Fifties, when she was no longer a girl. It is no surprise that the most gifted singer of her time should have taken her sweet time to get to the most worthwhile songs. After all, in America the excellent were called standards…

Before popular music involved itself with democratic politics and America’s incessant revolutions, it had a kind of strange authority–most obvious in the great American songbook. The mere suggestion, close to a canon, implies not only knowledge of American music, but a confidence that endless change is not America’s destiny–that some precious things will not be rendered unto oblivion. In the great writers, musicians, and singers, America had a sure defense against forgetfulness and its ugliest child, ingratitude. The songbook was not merely heard, but read–Americans used to buy untold numbers of copies of the sheet music to loved songs. In this dispersal lay safety, because Americans are jealous of their possessions, and can therefore defend them. In this proliferation of novelties, the great could grow among the mediocre, the memorable among the forgettable, and the deep insights among the frivolities.

Member Post

 

I’ve long been thinking about how to get conservatives to talk poetry. I have poetry podcasts; nix! I have comments on poetry or popular songs, long or short–it’s an old college habit I keep up with friends! Nix. It’s what I do to teach people languages; that one actually sort of pays off–people do care. But […]

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