The “First Lady of Song”—no argument here

Ella Fitzgerald: The Cole Porter Songbook, Volume 1 and Volume 2
Polygram Records, 1990 [originally released on Verve, 1956]

ella_2.jpg

Let me start by getting a little blasphemy out of the way here. Billie Holiday does pretty much nothing for me. Yeah, tragic life, career cut short, blah, blah, blah. If you’ve read more than a few of the boombox posts, you know I’m a fan of darkness in music. But Lady day’s relentlessly downer songs, delivered in her trademark warble, just depress the crap out of me.

Of course, Marion and I are notoriously cranky about jazz vocalists. We pretty much think they should just shut up, sit down and let the musicians play. There are a few rare exceptions, though, and none is rarer than “The First Lady of Song”—Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella’s incredible vocal range is a perfect match for Cole’s equally wide-ranging lyrics, moving effortlessly and unerringly from funny to sad to sultry to swinging. And the lyrics are nothing short of brilliant, no matter the mood. As music critic Douglas Wolk puts it in his review on Amazon, “There have probably never been a singer and a songwriter as perfect for each other as Ella and Cole, and this delicious, inexhaustibly delightful album is the pinnacle of Fitzgerald’s career, not to mention one of the most likeable records ever made.”

As proof of that likeableness, let me offer up a little personal history. Older daughter Claire was what’s known in the trade as a colicky baby. If she was being fussy and the problem couldn’t be fixed with a dry diaper, a nap or being fed, you were pretty much hosed. We tried everything before accidentally lighting on the one thing that would work on a fairly reliable basis: We would dim the lights in the apartment, put on Ella singing Cole Porter [the original two-record vinyl set that got broken out into these two CDs] and dance with her. It almost always worked like a charm. Soon, a quiet, contented Claire would be curled up on a swaying parental shoulder.

From time to time, just out of curiosity, we would experiment with other vocalists. Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Edith Piaf… even Judy Garland. No dice. It had to be Ella, and it had to be Cole. And in all those many, many, many nights of dancing the fussy Claire to calmness, we never tired of this album.

We still have the vinyl. I pulled it out recently when I thought about posting it on the boombox here. We’re still not tired of it.

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