Nov. 6th, 2011 11:37 pm
[personal profile] llbbooks
An interesting musical parallel occured to me tonight.

Both being masterful interpreters of song and both having been singers of the same sort of music in the same time period, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were and are often compared; I enjoy seeing which singer people prefer. I think more people know of Billie Holiday because of "God Bless the Child" so results in any sort of poll would be skewed, but it isn't like I know many fellow jazz fans to ask.

There are a lot of differences between the two, and those have been written about at length by those more learned than I. The one difference I post this to address is the difference in their singing manner.

Billie Holiday was one to really get into her songs. With that scratchy, draggy voice of hers, she lived her music, and she used her life experiences to interpret that music and make it her own. She lived it. She died from it, and all you needed to know about her impending death was recorded for the entire planet to listen to in her last album, Lady in Satin. ("I'm a Fool to Want You" and "The End of a Love Affair" hit me like punches to the chest when I first heard them, and still do. With her running-on fumes voice against the swells of the music, the former seems to come straight from the grave. The whole album, while wince-worthy given her talent and her impending death, really merits a listen.)

Ella Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. With a career spanning from 1935 (her first single being "Love and Kisses" with the Chick Webb band) to 1989 (last album "All That Jazz) and beyond (her involvement on the song "Birdland" on Quincy Jones' "Back on the Block," various YouTube vids- latest I could find last time I looked was a 1992 performance with Ray Charles) up until her death in 1996, she had to change her approach to music making dramatically starting after about 1966-1974 or so, but for most of her career she simply soared above her music- I've often seen it written she soared too far above it sometimes. Besides the album now known as "The Intimate Ella," up until her voice changed enough (I would submit 1966 as the high-water mark) that she had to add something of herself to it, there was often no Ella in the songs she sang. Up until 1967 or so she sang flawlessly- I've only ever managed to find one instant on one song on one record that wasn't perfect and it takes careful listening to hear it, but starting around 1967 her voice started to wear out because she sang so much and wasn't taught how to preserve her voice. She could no longer soar. When remembering Ella Fitzgerald, though, you remember her skill. Her personal life was clean, there was nothing to color her music with.

Of the two, if you didn't already know or couldn't tell, my favorite is Ella. No contest.

I would submit to you that the modern-day equivalent to this is Amy Winehouse and Adele. Like Ella and Billie, they sang roughly similar music at roughly the same skill level at roughly the same time period, and are therefore subject to comparison perhaps as inevitably as Ella and Billie were.

I'm not yet as familiar with Adele's catalog as I'd like to be, but so far I can tell that she keeps it clean- that she has a hell of a voice and, like Ella, doesn't color her music with the happenings of her private life.

Amy Winehouse, as we all know by now, lived at least some of her music. With her songs about pot ("Addicted,") songs that were written, recorded, or inspired by dark times in her life ("You Know I'm No Good," "Back to Black," "Tears Dry on Their Own," "Wake Up Alone,") and, of course, the ever-present "Rehab," Amy's personal life didn't just color her music, it was her music.


When asked my favorite artist, my answer will depend on the context and what mood I'm in. If I want clean, skillful music, I go to Ella. If I want music straight from the crotch, I go to Led Zeppelin. If I music to derive emotional fortitude, I go to Ani DiFranco. If I want impassioned, slightly off-balance music from the shadows of the heart, if I'm not in the mood to behave, I go to Amy Winehouse.



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