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Larry Kart

Ella: The Concert Years

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Picked up this 4-CD set the other day at a library sale for a song (so to speak). For some reason I've never been a big Ella fan, albeit a respectful one  -- the songbooks by and large seemed to me to place her in an interpretive straight jacket, when it came to scat singing I preferred Sarah Vaughn, etc. -- by when I listened to these 1953-1983 performances, tears almost came to my eyes at the joyful freedom of most of these performances. For one thing, on the several long jam session tracks where she trades passages with instrumentalists like Sweets, Lockjaw, Zoot Sims, Paul Gonsalves, Al Grey,  etc., her sheer inventiveness (and it's much more than mimicry) is not only right up there with theirs but also inspires them to respond in kind. Lots of mutual love there. As Ella usually says after a number is received by the audience with a storm of applause, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." 

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Not entirely sure why, but I've always preferred Ella. :wub::)

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46 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

 -- the songbooks by and large seemed to me to place her in an interpretive straight jacket...

Never wanted to go down that particular wormhole (the "GAS") with her (or anybody, really), but did get bit by the Nelson Riddle bug a while back so checked out all her albums with him, and will only partially/slightly agree with that as it pertains to those albums.

With the passage of time, it seems to me that Ella was a pretty weird character, musically. All over the place, not in "style", that was pretty much a constant, but in terms of "warmth"...possible "engagement".  My god, she had a glorious instrument, and whenever she wanted)?) to, she could make it cast a radiance that made any setting sound like the best idea for anybody ever. But other times, she was just silly (especially when scatting, sometimes she would get ALL up in there, and sometimes it would be, like, oopie-oobie-beeble-deeble-weediewaddydoo, SHUT UP!), and yet other times she seemed totally detached from the song and the setting. Just...all over the place, not like any other great jazz singers I can think of. Just....weird. I guess she was a "private person" (whatever that's supposed to possible be code for), but still...

But geez, listening to her and Louis Armstrong sing together...nothing weird about that!

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I am with Jim regarding the sessions with Ella and Louis Armstrong. Wonderful music!

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yes to Larry and Jim on all counts. Ella is one of those singers who, over the years, I felt that I should like more, but whom I never listened to all that much. Love the Armstrong and some of the Chick Webb, and I need to check this one out. Also, had a long talk with Tommy Flanagan when he was her accompanist, which was illuminating. Nothing shocking, just that she repeated the same improvs night after night and that he was bored; but this is one of the hazards of the working-singer, a show-biz deficit that is perhaps less likely to hinder a jazz instrumentalist.

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I think her Songbook albums are beautiful music.  Not jazz, per se, just American music.   I like her catalog a lot overall,  own plenty (probably most) but there is much silliness at times that I do find virtually unlistenable, and I find the late 70's work heartbreaking due to the deterioration in her voice.

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Ok, case in point - I just picked up a CD of her duets with Ellis Larkins, which I've hear highly praised for as long as I've heard anything about them, and...I'm not hearing it. She makes the Gershwin tunes sound dorky (which they mostly are, actually, too bad about history, it's always right, but it's not always good), but the other standards too, her and the lyrics really seem uncomfortable with each other, and the melodic contours follow suit.. It's a very, uh...disorienting listen for me, like somebody took a good record and tampered with it to make it uncomfortable on purpose.

And yet - there are other versions of those songs that she's done that are just wonderful, full of life and confidence and sass and everything you want out of this type of thing. It can't be "having an off day" or anything, because there's other records of hers like this, and also of the other kind.

Weird.

But at the end of the day, there's stuff like this, and all is well as long as it's there:

 

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2 hours ago, JSngry said:

Ok, case in point - I just picked up a CD of her duets with Ellis Larkins, which I've hear highly praised for as long as I've heard anything about them, and...I'm not hearing it. She makes the Gershwin tunes sound dorky (which they mostly are, actually, too bad about history, it's always right, but it's not always good), but the other standards too, her and the lyrics really seem uncomfortable with each other, and the melodic contours follow suit.. It's a very, uh...disorienting listen for me, like somebody took a good record and tampered with it to make it uncomfortable on purpose.

And yet - there are other versions of those songs that she's done that are just wonderful, full of life and confidence and sass and everything you want out of this type of thing. It can't be "having an off day" or anything, because there's other records of hers like this, and also of the other kind.

Weird.

But at the end of the day, there's stuff like this, and all is well as long as it's there:

 

I wonder though. How much influence would the producer and or Larkins have had on the finished product. Did someone specifically arrange for the higher level of dorky?

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Reading the liner notes has provided a little historical perspective, which I needed. apparently Ella had never been afforded the opportunity to record an "all standards" record before the Gershwin date, and it took five(?) years before another opportunity came along on Decca. After that, Norman Granz kindly did the needful and then she could record pretty much whatever she wanted.

It sounds to me like she was a little self-conscious, perhaps even unsure on these dates, not sure how straight or how "jazzy" to sing them, or how to balance the elements. Or maybe she just hadn't fully grown into them yet. But Larkins is not a problem here. And the Gershwin songs are dorky, ultimately. They just are. They've got "coyness" built into them, musically and lyrically. Not to take away from the skill, but the coyness they display seems very dated to me, and not in a good way. Images of self-satisfied "first-nighters" congratulating themselves for how damn clever they all are...it gives me the creeps.

Of all the famed/iconic writers of the "GAS", Gershwin has long paled before any of the others in my estimation. Don't gonna rgue with history as far as his "place", but history can go fuck itself as far as quality goes.

Still, in the right hands...

Put a top hat on THAT, motherfuckers.

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At first it was Sarah V but as time has passed I found her operatic diva thing too much to take. I much prefer Ella’s freedom and phrasing. 

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19 minutes ago, Clunky said:

At first it was Sarah V but as time has passed I found her operatic diva thing too much to take.

At some point, yeah. At the risk of conjuring some kind of something, it seems to me that the older and heavier she got, the heavier her phrasing also got. Still an incredible instrument, yet, if there is such a thing as ponderous soaring, then that's where she went (and stayed).

But jesus, earlier Sarah, that was a wonder - lithe, bouncy, all-knowing, not afraid of anything. A Michael Jordan-like freedom of singing. I can listen to that pretty much any time and get all kinds of happy.

 

17 hours ago, catesta said:

I wonder though. How much influence would the producer and or Larkins have had on the finished product. Did someone specifically arrange for the higher level of dorky?

Oh yeah, the Decca sessions w/Larkins  were produced by Milt Gabler, if I remember the liner notes correctly.

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38 minutes ago, Clunky said:

At first it was Sarah V but as time has passed I found her operatic diva thing too much to take. I much prefer Ella’s freedom and phrasing. 

You expressed what I couldn't.

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