Friday Favorites 8/16/2013
I have liked jazz ever since 1958, when I discovered that the East Haven LIbrary had a record collection and borrowed an album by the Modern Jazz Quartet. Although I was taken with the music immediately, my mother said, It sounds like everyone is playing whatever they want. I’d like to think I said something clever like, That’s exactly the idea, Mom, but I probably just shrugged and thought, You’re so uncool. The point is, jazz, particularly serious jazz, is not everyone’s cup of music and, with a few exceptions, instrumental jazz has resided outside the mainstream for most of my life. Then there’s vocal jazz. Many vocal performances regarded as standards in the American songbook are also considered jazz standards. Good examples are Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, Frank Sinatra’s One for My Baby and Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable. Other forms of vocal jazz, like scat singing and vocalese are acquired tastes at best (tastes I’ve most definitely acquired). In scat singing, made famous by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, the performer uses sounds and nonsense syllables to mimic the improvisations of instrumental jazz. There’s a good example by Ella herself, here. In vocalese, the performers sing the words to pre-existing instrumental arrangements, as in Manhattan Transfer’s Body and Soul.
Just as with instrumental jazz, I’m a vocal jazz omnivore but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorites … and I’d have to say my favorite female jazz vocalist is Canadian-born Diana Krall. One look at the cover of her The Look of Love album and you’d probably say, I know why, but it’s not about looks (although they can’t hurt). Diana is both a pianist and a singer, and I’d listen to her play even if she didn’t sing. But oh, can she sing – with a voice that’s been described as wild honey with a spoonful of scotch. She has sold over 15 million albums worldwide, has won 2 Grammys and is the only jazz singer to have eight albums debut at the top of the Billboard Jazz Albums list. Her repertoire honors past performers like Nat King Cole but includes modern classics Bill Joel’s Just the Way You Are and Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue. My favorite … and certainly one of my favorite recordings in any genre … is A Case of You, an incredibly plaintive rendition of a Joni Mitchell tune.
This live version of Fly Me to the Moon is a little more jazzy and shows off Diana’s quartet and her piano style. Enjoy.