ALBUM REVIEW: Ella Fitzgerald, Get Happy!

In continuing with my alphabet series, I, like most people reciting the alphabet, came to the letter “F.” To be honest, I’m not sure if it is a widespread issue, but I did not have very many artist associated with the letter “F.”

Then came along Ms. Fitzgerald. I remembered I had a few of her vinyls and I ellafitzgerald-gethappyespecially am fond of one entitled “Get Happy.” This was one of those lucky Goodwill finds.

Now I am no expert on Fitzgerald, but from what I can tell she was nothing but highly acclaimed. She sang many “Songbooks” from composers, as well as recording original material. Her label at the point of this record was Verve which was actually created around the production of her albums.

I love a good Jazz record and Fitzgerald is one of the best, but I noticed something new as I listened this time around. I am familiar with many old blues and jazz artists, but I find one of the most influential figures in this musical movement is Lady Day, Billie Holiday. Fitzgerald seems to be an extension of where Holiday left off due to her untimely death.

fite007Jazz and blues music seems to encompass everything from arrangements, to instrumentation, to vocal styles. You can hear a song from this genre sung 100 different ways and every way be as good as the next. Vocals were flexible and nothing is out of bounds.

Fitzgerald continued to innovate and play with jazz and blues music through her vocal phrasing and her legendary scatting ability. One can point back to many of her vocal styles that encompass later pop vocalists. I thought I even sensed some rockabilly tendencies at times. Her vocal stylings were not exclusive to her genre, but universal to the sculpting of future performers.

The album opens with “Somebody Loves Me,” a tune about looking for the one who loves you (and it could be you!). She then goes into a vulnerable subject in “Cheerful, Little Fearful,” explaining the reluctance of hearing “I love you.” This song is especially interesting considering that this could make a great ballad, yet it is offset by a compulsive beat and rather “happy” vocals. Side One ends with “Cool Breeze.” You may have trouble looking up the lyrics to this one, it’s pure scatting.

Side two opens with “Moonlight Become You,” a beautiful ballad of the simplicity of Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie 12love. She does a great version of “You Turned The Tables on Me” and goes straight into a big band interpretation of “Gypsy in My Soul.” The real gem on this side is “Goody Goody.” This song will have you laughing and Fitzgerald’s deliverance has perfect comedic timing. She’s so happy her ex found someone else (goody! goody!), but is also happy when she breaks his heart (goody! goody!).

I fell Fitzgerald’s vocal abilities transcend time. She sounds just as fresh and crisp when compared with modern vocalists. Where Billie Holiday poured a foundation, Ella Fitzgerald built a house. For this music lovers we should be forever grateful, for I’m not sure what later music would have sounded like with out the influence of Fitzgerald and modern jazz music.

Goody! Goody!

ALBUM REVIEW: Judy Garland, Judy. London. 1969.

I stumbled across this record at a Half-Price books store. I had never seen it, nor have I seen it since. Judy. London. 1969. Considering I was already a Judy Garland fan and knew that she had died in 1969, I had to pay the 4.99. It is billed as her very last recording on the sleeve.

I’ve read many articles over the legendary Judy Garland and have watched numerous IMG_4938documentaries. I have watched over half of her movies and would say she had me wrapped up at “Somewhere.” The struggles this legendary Hollywood star went through were tragic. They all seemed to stem from low self-confidence and persistent questioning of herself. She was always good enough for her audience, but never for herself.

From my research, there wasn’t a lot of material from Garland since 1967, three years before her death. I do not know what happened to her voice during this time, but I know she had a hard fall from her failed TV show. We all know about the pills and alcohol that plagued Garland, and who knew if they had taken a toll on her voice during these years.

How completely wrong I was.

The album is mixed mostly with Garland’s biggest hits. There are also a few songs that were only recorded on this album. Although, this is by no means a professionally mixed album. Garland was being encouraged to start recording again, but as I mentioned before, self-doubt was getting the best of her. Her then-husband, Mickey Deans, recorded her performances on the second tier of the auditorium to prove to Judy that her voice was still in superb form. So the recording is a little scratchy, sometimes distant sounding, but it caught the essence of the Garland touch.

IMG_4939The album opens with “I Belong to London (London Belongs to Me).” This was a real crowd pleaser with her English audience. She then goes into her signature hit “Get Happy” from Summer Stock. Then she goes into one of my all-time favorites, “The Man That Got Away.” This is one of her best recordings of this song. For once she didn’t sound plagued with its negative connotations, but she was able to sing it as if she was giving advice. She also inserted a few stylization changes in there, that portrayed a new chapter. The first side then closes with “I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning.” A song written specifically for an album of new material for Garland, but was never made.

Side two opens with “Just in Time.” This is the only recording of this song by Garland. She then goes into her classic melody of “You Made Me Love You,” “For Me and My Gal,” and “The Trolley Song.” She then performed “For Once in My Life” and “San Francisco.” The former is her only known recording of the song, but the latter song she performed many times.

Throughout the whole concert Garland is cracking jokes, talking to people in the audience, and being the excellent crowd pleaser she always was.

Then there was the closing song, her signature, “Over the Rainbow.” For each live Garland album I own, I always hold my breath for this one, especially in her later years. You could sense and feel the hurt and anguish that was in her life, but this version took a different twist.

During this rendition of “Over the Rainbow” Garland sounded happy. She sounded close IMG_4940to her rainbow. Was she almost there? Or was that actress coming out in fine form? It makes me ponder these last moments in her career and life that ended on June 22nd, 1969, just four months after this recording. I hope she was happy. I hope she was satisfied and realized just how amazing she truly was. This was the last recording of her London engagement.

She was always Judy. That unstoppable, 4’11” performer who always brought the house down. Her smile often fooled, but all loved to see it. For us who were not able to see it, we love the pictures. Her voice still feels as warm as it ever was on her recordings and her talent nonetheless.

Often, I believe music and film scholars forget just what a tragic year 1969 was for the industry. Not only did they lose a legend, but they lost something the industry will never have again. There is only one actress, one voice, and one smile that could touch like hers. Judy’s legendary career is sealed in history books, but her voice will always live, making you warm on winter nights, happy on summer days, and hurt on lonely evenings. There’s no more “O why can’t I,” for she did.