My jazz education involved mostly artists who played instruments, not vocalists. There were really only three vocalists who were deemed by my mentor to be worthy of intense study: Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.
I loved Ella immediately. Her style is so much like my own personality that I can't help but love her. She's upbeat and fun, but still incredibly serious as an artist. She knows what she's doing - her pitch is impeccible, her tone is vivacious, and her ear, well, her ear is amazing. Without an ability to hear where she fits in, she could never scat like she does. Her ability to transform her voice into a part of the band - an instrument, if you will - that's a very difficult thing to do well. And she's the master.
It took me a long time to like Billie Holiday. As a teenager studying jazz through my personal outlook, I didn't get why Billie was "good." To me, her voice was thin and off-key, and she mumbled a lot. And so I didn't get why she was supposed to be so great. Of course I love her now, after having suffered some personal losses and lived some of my life, it's easier to understand where she was coming from. It's still true that she's not a great musician, in a technical sense, but what she was able to achieve in spite of that lack of formal training is extraordinary. Still, she takes a lot of listening to and a lot of living with - but when things are bad and you just want to sit for awhile and brood, she's the one to have on the stereo.
I think Sarah Vaughan is my favorite, though. She has the ability to run the gamut between Ella's high-intensity, bubbly energy and Billie's quiet, bluesy sadness. She's got it all, really. A wonderful, rich, well-trained voice, with an amazing range, an ability to uplift your mood with a feel good song, but with enough blues in her soul to bring you right down with her when she sings a ballad so beautifully you want to just cry. And she can bend notes! Listen to how she molds a note, lifting it slightly, then bringing it back down, and then finally right back to where it belongs - it's a fascinating art to hear.
We'll give each of these women some time on today's show so that you can experience their qualities for yourself. Let me know what you think. Like all great art, it exists for your pleasure, for your contemplation, and ultimately it speaks to you in a unique way that makes the experience your own. Enjoy!
Your 'OZ Jazzbird, Elizabeth
Sittin in With Elizabeth
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