América Latina, Fútbol, Rock'n'Roll

19 novembre 2009

Ella Fitzgerald vs Billie Holiday

I was looking for something about these two divas after listening an incredible jazz performance yesterday night (here) and I remembered that I found this great article from an US magazine made by some students of Duke University called Mental Floss.

These immortal jazz divas are often considered two sides of the same coin. On one hand, you’ve got Ella: the revered grand dame of her art, with a long list of recordings and accomplishments. On the other, there’s Billie, the quintessential troubled artist. Billie wasn’t just taken away too soon—she also squandered her gifts in a heartbreaking spiral of self-destruction.
But back to Ella. Born in 1917, Fitzgerald was known as much for her incredible musicianship as she was for her unbelievable voice. Journalist David Brinkley, once commenting on her impressive three-octave vocal range, said you’d need an elevator to get from bottom to top. But while range is one thing, what you do with it is quite another. And the “First Lady of Song” did like no other. Using her voice like a trumpet, Ella produced a sound that was full, strong, rich, and flexible. Further, she was famous for her scat singing (you know, the “be-do-nde-be-doo-BAP!” stuff jazz some singers do), through which she could use her voice just like any other improvisational instrument in the band.
It’s no wonder that Ella earned the awe and admiration of the biggest musical stars of the jazz era and beyond, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, George and Ira Gershwin, and Charlie Parker. Her reputation and respect were such that other musicians simply called her Lady Ella. And over her astonishing career, she recorded almost 70 albums and won 13 Grammys. Unfortunately, Ella lost her sight and eventually her legs to diabetes. And the world lost her in 1996.

Billie Holiday, on the other hand, led a life that was much shorter, but no less important in the history of jazz. Born Eleanora Fagan, Billie was child to a 13-year-old mother in Philadelphia. A dropout and a teenage prostitute, Billie’s life started to change when she was discovered in a Harlem nightclub at age 17. And though she didn’t have nearly the range of Fitzgerald, Holiday made up for it in spades with her gut-wrenching emotion and nuance. Her voice, though thinner than Ella’s, carries a looser and more elastic approach to the words and phrasing that makes her instantly recognizable. If you want to get chills up your spine, catch an earful of “Strange Fruit,” a hauntingly sad yet eerily beautiful lament by Lewis Allen about widespread lynching in the South: “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, / Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” As for titles, however, Billie too was a “lady.” Her stage persona was Lady Day, and you can always recognize her by the white gardenia in her hair.

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