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100 Years of Ella Fitzgerald

Born 100 years ago today, in 1917, if not quite at the dawn of the recorded music era, then during its infancy, Ella Fitzgerald has done more than most singers to fill the world with beautiful music and spread the joy and the love of the Great American Song Book. But what is it that makes Ella so important? Or as Mel Tormé put it, “She was the best singer on the planet.”

As a teenager she bunked off school, worked for the Mafia and lived on the streets, so it is perhaps surprising that her purity of voice has beguiled audiences since she first recorded with Chick Webb’s Orchestra in 1935. Like so many singers from the era of the big bands, Ella’s job was to perform live for dancers at clubs and ballrooms and then to go into the studio to sing the pop songs of the day, whether they truly suited her voice, or not. As often as not these songs better suited the band than the singer.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1938 that Ella found real success and when she did it was with a 19th century nursery rhyme that was brought up to date by Van Alexander who regularly sold arrangements to Chick Webb. ‘A-tisket A-tasket’ hit the right note with record buyers and it made No.1 on the American hit parade. A year later Webb passed away from spinal tuberculosis and for the next few years Ella kept his orchestra together, billed as Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra.

However, it was a struggle to keep it going; the band members were very demanding and Ella, barely in her twenties, found their demands difficult to rebut. In the summer of 1942 things came to something of a head when the American Musician’s Union (AFM) called a strike for all its members, which put an end to recording. Decca Records, Ella’s label, came to an agreement with the AFM in late September 1943 and instead of putting her back with her Orchestra, Decca teamed Ella with another of their prized recording assets, The Ink Spots. The result ‘Cow-Cow Boogie’ which made the Billboard top 10. Later in 1944 the same pairing scored a No.1 with ‘Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall’ coupled with ‘I’m Making Believe’.

Having had this success Decca tried to replicate the formula with recordings with Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, The Delta Rhythm Boys and The Song Spinners and there were some modest hits. One of these was her last chart success of the decade, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ with Louis Jordan, from the Esther William’s 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter. The problem was, no one at Decca could work out what Ella should be singing solo.

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Jazz Pianists

The 36 Greatest Jazz Pianists

So just who are the greatest jazz pianists? Well we have, as usual, scoured the net, magazines and books to conduct our poll of polls and this is the result. Of course we know many of you will disagree with the list, who is ranked above, or below, who, and we’re as ever, keen to hear from you as to who you think should be on the list.

There are a number of pianists that we are sorry to see fail to make the Top 36, the innovative Mary Lou Williams for one, Jacky Terrasson is another that we admire and so is the late Joe Sample. Just let us know your favourites and why.

We’re sursprised that Bud Powell didn’t make it a little higher up the list and glad to see that Lyle Mays made it.

Scroll down for our playlist of the 36 Greatest Jazz Pianists…

But why 36? Well as we all know there are 36 black keys on a piano…

36. Andrew Hill

35. Dave Grusin

34. Cecil Taylor

33. Lyle Mays

32. Sonny Clark

31. Michel Petrucciani

30. Hank Jones

29. Scott Joplin

28. Ramsey Lewis

27. Wynton Kelly

26. James P. Johnson

25. Kenny Kirkland

24. Bob James

23. George Shearing

22. Joe Zawinul

21. Teddy Wilson

20. Horace Silver

19. Red Garland

18. Tommy Flanagan

17. Erroll Garner

16. Dave Brubeck

15. Jelly Roll Morton

14. Earl Hines

13. Count Basie

12. Fats Waller

11. Duke Ellington

10. Ahmad Jamal

AHMAD JAMAL

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Girl Groups

Leaders Of The Pack: The Power Of Girl Groups

It would take a special male teenager who would admit to loving a boy band. In the macho world of young lads, appearing, if not tough, at least identifiably masculine, is everything. Admitting you loved New Kids On The Block or Take That in the early 90s would mark you out as an unusual young male adolescent ripe for bullying. But if it was, say, female R&B trio Eternal, that was cool: they projected a sexy image.

That kind of image not only attracts male fans, but girls see it as empowering, perhaps inspiring. And that’s a fundamental difference: the sisters speak to everybody, but most brothers only speak to their brothers. And while most so-called “classic” rock bands are male, girl groups go all the way back to the birth of pop, and their long and honourable dedication to delighting the ears deserves far more recognition than it gets. So let’s acknowledge the sheer brilliance of the female group – the backbone of pop since before pop had a name.

Can we go back? Way back? It may seem like a long journey from The Andrews Sisters to Christina Aguilera, but Xtina knows full well the power of the three girls from Minnesota who mixed swing and R&B to become one of the biggest acts of the 40s. Watch her video for ‘Candyman’: this is The Andrews Sisters for the modern age.

Right from the start, the three Andrews Sisters were taking responsibility for their lives and those of their family, hitting the road in their teens after their dad’s restaurant went broke. During the 30s, they worked their way up the swing circuit and signed to Decca, hitting big with ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schön’ in 1937. While that was a romantic ballad translated from Yiddish, the girls had already shown their R&B hipness with their previous hit, ‘Jammin’, a mere 40 years ahead of Bob Marley. ‘Shortenin’ Bread’ and ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ kept them in the public eye, and across 1940-41 the trio scored with a series of smashes – some of which look a bit weird to a modern mindset, notably ‘Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar’, and ‘Scrub Me, Mama, With A Boogie Beat’. But there was also ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ amid their litany of wartime hits, and ‘Rum And Coca-Cola’ remains famous. The sisters also made movies and the media of the day was fascinated with their love lives, occasional feuds and looks. If that sounds like a modern group, it was: Andrews Sisters records have featured on video games such as Fallout 4, LA Noire and Mafia II. They were the future from way back.

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Al Jarreau

Jazz Singer Al Jarreau Dies At 76

The innovative, mercurial and brilliant jazz singer Al Jarreau passed away on 12 February, 2017. The news was announced on the singer’s website, where an uncredited testimonial reads: “Al Jarreau passed away today. He will be missed. A few days ago, I was asked to describe Al to someone who knew of his success, but did not know him as a person. I responded with this: His 2nd priority in life was music. There was no 3rd.

jarreau-slide3“His 1st priority, far ahead of the other, was healing or comforting anyone in need. Whether it was emotional pain, or physical discomfort, or any other cause of suffering, he needed to put our minds at ease and our hearts at rest. He needed to see a warm, affirming smile where there had not been one before. Song was just his tool for making that happen.” Fellow jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson tweeted to describe Jarreau as “a master improviser, an endearing storyteller…always able to capture an audience and anyone with whom he shared the stage.”

Jarreau graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. Having worked on the West Coast as a rehabilitation counsellor in San Francisco, he simultaneously moonlighted with a jazz trio headed by George Duke, who became a lifelong friend and collaborator. By 1968, music became his career, as he played Los Angeles clubs like Dino’s, the Troubadour and Bitter End West. Television exposure came from Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and David Frost. Jarreau began writing his own lyrics, finding that his Christian beliefs began to influence his work.

We Got ByIn 1975, Al was working with pianist Tom Canning when he was signed by Warner Brothers Records. On Valentine’s Day, 1976, he appeared on Saturday Night Live and soon afterwards released his debut album, We Got By, which earned him an Echo Award, the German equivalent of the Grammys.

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Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin Set To Retire This Year

Aretha Franklin is planning one final album this year before hanging up her boa.

According to an interview with Detroit’s WDIV Local 4, Franklin said: “I must tell you, I am retiring this year. This will be my last year. I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert. This is it.”

She also revealed Stevie Wonder will be producing several songs off the new release of original music, due in September.

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