Ella Fitzgerald: Smooth Sailing


Smooth Sailing


Ella Fitzgerald (vocals)


The Legendary Decca Recordings (GRP 46482)

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Ella Fitzgerald (vocals), Hank Jones (piano), Everett Barksdale (guitar), Arnold Fishkin (bass),

Bill Doggett (organ), Johnny Blowers (drums), and the Ray Charles Singers


Composed by Arnett Cobb


Recorded: New York, June 26, 1951


Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Ella as one of the founders of rock 'n' roll? Not as crazy as it sounds after listening to this wordless 12-bar scat-and-riff feature from 1951. Since 1949 Ella had become a regular feature with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, effectively a touring jam session presenting some of the greatest musicians in jazz. Ella was the ipso facto star of the show, with her own prime spot as well as appearing at the climax of the show during the final jam session to swap choruses with instrumentalists such as Charlie Parker or Coleman Hawkins. Her effortless mastery of scat, sharpened and honed in such exacting circumstances, is apparent on “Smooth Sailing,” done without any rehearsal. A strong gospel-style backbeat gives the performance its swinging groove, with call-and-response patterns between voice and instruments. But listen to Ella’s free association scat, from which one phrase is lifted intact on Bill Haley’s huge hit “Rock Around the Clock,” and the final riff section, also used by Haley. Coincidence? Not really. “Smooth Sailing” was produced by Milt Gabler, who went on to work with Haley.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson

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Related Links

The Legacy of Ella Fitzgerald by Ted Gioia
The Dozens: Twelve Essential Ella Fitzgerald Performances by Stuart Nicholson
”Ella Fitzgerald” by Stuart Nicholson (from The Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians)


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