Effortless beauty

I have been an Ella Fitzgerald fan for decades. To my mind, there are few pleasures greater than hearing Ella sing one of the classics from the heyday of American popular music. I was therefore delighted to see the graceful homage the guys at Power Line paid to her today, the anniversary of her birth. One of the things the post tries to do is get to the essence of what made her special. They quote a reader who said of her singing:

She sings the song so beautifully we naturally recognize the beauty of the singer as well. She doesn’t have to work to be noticed; she gives no sign she cares about that. She glories in the music, and that becomes her glory.

That’s true, but a little too abstract for me. I can be very concrete about such things as her phrasing, diction, and spot-on-tunefulness, but those are a little too cold for me. When it comes right down to it, what I adore about Ella’s singing is how effortless it feels. You never hear the woman sweat a song. She just opens her mouth and this glorious sound flows out. No Mariah Carey ululating, no Kurt Cobain screeching, no Whitney Houston shrieking. There’s a complete absence of breathiness, squeaks or whining. It’s just this incredible flow of pure voice, whether she’s crooning a ballad or swinging some jazz. I know of only two other singers who have that relaxed virtuoso quality: Bing Crosby and Doris Day. Whether you like them or not, they too seemed like vessels through which the music flowed, rather than laboring engines forcing out sound.

Here’s a great recording of Ella, which displays every one of those vocal gifts.

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  • http://www.permanente.net/homepage/doctor/jameswoolery/ JamieIrons

    We seem to be on the same wavelength. My wife, Nina, who is a colleague of your husband, alerted me to your site.

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    Jamie Irons

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Hmm…. I didn’t know Mr. Bookworm had blown my cover. Thank you for the kind words — and I assume, of course, that you’ll enter into the spirit of my whole anonymity thing, right?

  • Gringo

    Ella and Cole, from the Songbooks. Such a combination is hard to beat. While a lot of the renditions in her Songbooks are plainsong, not jazzy, her Cole Porter versions of the Songbooks are done with verve and soul.

    She is definitely in control, as most of the time she tones down from what she is capable of. Her voice can mimic a trombone/trumpet, as was shown in the Ken Burns series, or Louis Armstrong. While with Billie Holiday and with Sarah Vaughan, what you see/hear is what you get, with Ella, you get the impression that she is toying with you. “You don’t know the half of what I can do,” Ella seems to be saying at times. I get the impression that the variations that Ella does and can do with a song is much more than with Billie and Sarah.
    Ella will surprise you much more than Sarah or Billie. She did THAT?

    I use the present tense, because I listen to her every week from my collection of ~ 30 Ella CDs. Much more than Che, Ella lives!

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I also love the Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin songbooks — because I love those two composers. The combination of great composers and great singer is transcendent. I assume, too, that you have the early Ella, when she was singing with Chick Webb. She was so young then, and already in complete control of her voice. Wow!