Jazz at 100 Hour 46: The Songbooks (1950 – 1959)

Ella Fitzgerald

Songs from what came to be known as the Great American Songbook, have been part of jazz perhaps since The Original Dixieland Jazz Band began recording Irving Berlin compositions. In the 1940s, singer Lee Wiley recorded several collections of 78s, known as “albums” – a name that stuck into the LP era, focused on the work of individual composers like George Gershwin or Cole Porter. With the advent of the Long Playing record, the idea of recording whole LPs dedicated to the work of a specific songwriter or songwriting team took olff, initiated by Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella Fitzgerald and the Songbooks.
While the series of eight collections Ella recorded for Verve have come to define the songbook genre, her first songbook LP was a set of duets with pianist Ellis Larkin on Gershwin tunes, recorded for Decca during her tenure with the label. “In January 1956, Fitzgerald began recording for Norman Granz’s Verve label, and the first release, ‘Sings The Cole Porter Songbook’, became the commercial rock on which Verve was built. It was so successful that Granz set Ella to work on all the great American songwriters, and her series of songbook albums are an unrivalled sequence of their kind. The Porter set is a sentimental favourite of many, in the jazz audience and beyond, and it’s one of the records which typifies the first great era of the long-player and sets her most straightforwardly in the measure alongside some of the other vocal greats of the era.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Someone To Watch Over Me. Ella Fitzgerald with Ellis Larkins
(Ellis Larkins-p, Ella Fitzgerald-voc). From Ella Sings Gershwin. 9/12/1950. (The Jazz Singers)
“I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella sing them” – Ira Gershwin

Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye. Ella Fitzgerald With Buddy Bregman’s Orchestra
(Bob Cooper, Ted Nash, Corky Hale, Robert Marchina, Edgar Lustgarted, Paul Smith, Barney Kessel, Joe Mondragon, Alvin Stoller). From Sings Cole Porter. 2/7/1956

Porgy and Bess.
In 1958, in advance of the 1959 release of the film adaptation of George and Ira Gershwin and Dubose Heyward’s opera Porgy and Bess, several jazz songbooks were released based on the score. Perhaps the most successful vocal version was that of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and the most successful instrumental version was from Gil Evans and Miles Davis.

Bess, You Is My Woman Now. Ella Fitzgerald – Louis Armstrong with The Russell Garcia Orchestra.
(Louis Armstron-tp/voc, Ella Fitzgerald-voc, unknown orchestra). From Porgy and Bess. 8/18/1957

Summertime. Gil Evans Orchestra
(Jonny Coles, Bernie Glow, Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal-tp, Miles Davis -flh, Joe Bennett, Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Rehak-tb, Dick Hixson-btb, Willie Ruff, Gunther Schuller, Julius Watkins-frh, Bill Barber-tu, Jerome Richardson, Romeo Penque-fl/cl,Bess. From Porgy and Bess. 8/18/1958
“Unlike the aggressively free-spirited music he made with his sextet, Davis’s work with Evans on Porgy and other records possessed a sensuous luster that appealed to people who lacked the patience for long jazz improvisations” – Gary Giddins & Scott DeVeaux

Cole Porter.
Ella’s Cole Porter set was so hugely successful, we might not remember that Norman Granz had produced a Porter Songbook LP with Charlie Parker two years earlier. Throughout the 1950’s Porter collections continued to be recorded, including a 1959 set by Cecil Taylor, a measure of the popularity of the songwriter among jazz musicians.

I Love Paris. Charlie Parker Quintet
(Charlie Parker-as, Walter Bishop-p, Billy Bauer-b, Teddy Kotick-b, Roy Haynes-d). From Charlie Parker Plays Cole Porter. 12/10/1954

Love For Sale. Sonny Criss Quintet
(Sonny Criss-as, Larry Bunker-vib, Sonny Clark-p, Buddy Clark-b, Lawrence Marable-d). From Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter. 8/26/1956

Night and Day. Anita O’Day With Billy May Orchestra.
(Anita O’Day-voc, unknown orchestra). From Anita Swings Cole Porter. 4/9/1959

My Fair Lady.
The blockbuster success of My Fair Lady on Broadway in 1956 led to the interpretation its songs and others by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe by a range of jazz artists.

Get Me To The Church On Time. Shelly Manne and his Friends
(Andre Previn-p, Leroy Vinnegar-b, Shelly Manne-d). From My Fair Lady. 8/17/1956

I Could Have Danced All Night. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
(Bill Hardman-tp, Johnny Griffin-ts, Sam Dockery-p, Spanky DeBrest-b, Art Blakey-d). From Selections from Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady, Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon. 3/13/1957

Show Me. Chet Baker Septet
(Chet Baker-tp, Herbie Mann-fl/ts, Zoot Sims-as/ts, Pepper Adams-bs, Bill Evans-p, Earl May-b Clifford Jarvis-d). From Plays The Best Of Lerner & Loewe. 7/21/1959

Irving Berlin.
In 1956, Mel Torme, recorded a set of songs associated with Fred Astaire, divided evenly between compositions by Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields. One of the highlights of the set is Marty Paich’s brilliant arrangement of Cheek to Cheek for his first-call LA dectet, as a setting for Torme’s agile and virtuosic reading of Irving Berlin‘s lyric. Of Ella’s adventurous version of Berlin’s Blue Skies, Giddins and DeVeaux write, “She begins with a scat intro, employing cantorial phrases that suggest Jewish liturgical music. She sings the lyric at a medium clip, accompanied by Harry “Sweets” Edison’s trumpet obbligato, mildly embellishing the melody, yet making every phrase swing. She takes off on a three chorus scat improvisation, singing variations with the imagination of an instrument… She never runs out of steam or breath, carrying the rhythm like an ocean current.”

Cheek To Cheek. Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dectet
(Pete Candoli-tp, Don Fagerquist-tp, Bob Enevoldsen-vtb/ts, Vince DeRosa-frh, Albert Pollan-tu, Herb Geller-as, Jack Montrose-ts, Jack Dulong-bars, Marty Paich-p, Max Bennett-b, Alvin Stoller-d, Mel Torme-voc). From Mel Torme Sings Fred Astaire. 11/1956.

Blue Skies. Paul Weston Orchestra with Ella Fitzgerald and Harry “Sweets” Edison
(Harry “Sweets” Edison-tp, Ella Fitzgerald-voc, unknown orchestra). From The Irving Berlin Songbook, Part 2. 3/18/1958. (The Norton Collection)

Once the pattern had been established in the mid-1950s, jazz artists continued to release testaments to the composers of the Great American Songbook, but there never again has been a collected work to rival Ella Fitzgerald’s Songbooks.

In an important series of records in the late 1950s, Charles Mingus emerged as one of the most challenging composers and band leaders in jazz. Concurrently, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane earned their spots as the dominant tenor players of their generation. Together these players exemplified the spirit of experimentation that has propelled jazz through the decades. In the next hour of Jazz at 100 – the late 1950s recordings of the Experimentalists – Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins. W.W. Norton 933796.
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113.
Ella Fitzgerald Sings Gershwin. Decca DL 5300
Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook. Verve MGV 4050
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong. Porgy & Bess. Verve MGV 4011-2
Miles Davis. Porgy and Bess. Columbia CL 1274
Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker Plays Cole Porter. Verve MGV 8007
Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter. Imperial LP 9024
Anita Swings Cole Porter. Verve MGV 2118
Shelly Manne. My Fair Lady. Contemporary C 3527
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Selections from Lerner and Lowe’s… Vik LAK 1103
Chet Baker. Plays The Best Of Lerner & Loewe. Riverside RLP 12-307
Mel Tormé Sings Fred Astaire. Bethlehem BCP 6013
Ella Fitzgerald. The Irving Berlin Song Book. Verve MGV 4031

Giddins, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 9. A Worlkd of Soloists
Chapter 14. Modality: Miles Davis and John Coltrane
Giddins, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 11. Louis Armstrong (The Once and Future King)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7 – The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles.
Chapter 9 – Traditionalists and Postmodernists
Hershorn, Tad. 2011. Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice. Berkeley. University of California Press.
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook
Mel Torme Sings Fred Astaire
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 40. Ella Fitzgerald: The Cole Porter Songbook (1956)

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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