Ella Fitzgerald: I Loves You Porgy

Ella’s voice may have been the perfect instrument to express joy, but she was also a consummate ballad singer. However, while the Songbooks with their big band or string accompaniments defined Ella to a broad middle-of-the-road audience, her ability to sing virtually anything on demand often created a certain emotional distance from her material. However, in live performance she would sing her heart out, and the Rome version of “I Loves You Porgy” ranks among the very best of Ella Fitzgerald on record. It is a striking example of her getting inside a song’s meaning, something she was not normally noted for. It is almost as if she has scrubbed the song clean of any emotional thumbprints other singers may have left. In holding the song up to the light, it gleams anew, as if being sung for the first time. Her singing, with its precise enunciation, pitch and breath control, her subtle use of tonal inflection and tasteful use of vibrato, especially terminal vibrato, is exemplary, but there is also an emotional engagement with the material here that was seldom glimpsed in the studio.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Nina Simone: I Loves You Porgy

      Nina Simone, photo by Herb Snitzer

Nina Simone's first hit coincided with a full-blown 1958 fad for Porgy and Bess, including a Broadway revival and numerous jazz versions, most notably by Miles Davis & Gil Evans. This track, however, in the aftermath of the Montgomery bus boycott and Little Rock desegregation crisis, carried a special subtext. Whereas Bess in the original 1935 libretto begs Porgy to rescue her from a pimp, Simone transfigures an individualized black-on-black threat into a universalized saga of Black Woman exploited by (if you listen between the lines) White Man. Even Billie Holiday's 1948 model lacked the shivers of this somber drama.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments


Billie Holiday: I Loves You Porgy

In the 1940s, Billie Holiday had the misfortune (as if she needed any more) of being contracted to Decca Records, which kept saddling her with unsuitable material and inappropriate orchestrations. No ignominy was beneath Decca, which in 1949 went so far as to refashion Billie as a latter-day Bessie Smith for “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer”—equivalent to casting Paul Robeson as Kingfish in Amos 'n' Andy. Here, left to her own devices, Lady Day proves that an intimate Gershwin song plus four sympathetic musicians made the best backdrop for the unadorned drama of her incomparable voice.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments


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