Album Review

Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook


Release Date: April 14th, 1956

Words by: Keita Tarlinton
July 15th, 1962


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At my request, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook was on regular rotation at my house when I was a kid in the 90's. Through this album, Ella seemingly extended an invitation to somewhere better and I took it. We shared a secret, a playful wink, a sing-along, and perhaps even a dance. We shared in the good times of my youth.

Hence upon rediscovering this album a few years later, it sound-tracked my daydreams and triggered a nostalgic mood that had earlier taken me out of adolescent tedium. This time however, it instead transposed to a summer in the city, where there was whiskey and wisecracks, romance and mornings that arrive all too soon.

Music that is sheer escapism. Well why not? It's been vital to me throughout certain times in my life, and this is one of those records that will always provide that feeling.

This record has not just been significant to me however.

Ella reportedly remarked that this album was a turning point in her career. She had been playing the small jazz club circuit, devoting her voice to bee bop. Her strengths in the technique of scat were well recognized within the jazz community, yet her dedication to this style of music was inhibiting her from reaching a wider audience and a voice like Ella's was deserving of universal recognition.

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook was released in 1956. The success of the album cued a tour and Ella began playing at clubs throughout the US – previously wherein the only black people were cleaners, not the stars of the headline act. The year prior, Ella was restricted to playing smaller venues due to rules imposed by many club owners which prevented African-American people from entering such establishments. One such place was 'Mocambo'; Hollywood's premier nightclub. Marilyn Monroe had been frequenting the club at the time and discovered that her favorite singer, Ella Fitzgerald, was prohibited from performing there. Subsequently, Marilyn approached the nightclub's manager, and in a bid to lift the ban, guaranteed to sit front row for seven nights in a row on the condition that Ella would be performing. Monroe fulfilled her promise and Ella was never forced to play lesser clubs again.

In the same year Ella's manager Norman Granz started the record label Verve; created around Fitzgerald's sky rocketing profile. It was Granz's influence that propelled her into new musical territory and prompted the songbook series: each record of which presents an exploration of the works of a single songwriter, beginning with those of Cole Porter. This format ultimately highlighted Ella's greatest artistic trait: her profound ability to reinterpret the work of others. As Ira Gershwin once said, "I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them."

Cole Porter's jaunty melodies superbly showcase Ella's vocal prowess, her faultless intonation, and the devotion she gives to each note. Ella's impeccable diction works to highlight the whimsical innuendo and wordplay in Cole Porter's work. She's having a damn good time with this material and it translates beautifully on record.

Cole Porter was a prolific song writer. He predominantly composed for Broadway and Hollywood musicals with his first hit being the musical Paris in 1928; most notably introducing the number 'let's do it, let's fall in love'.

'Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Let's do it, Let's fall in love.'

And if the double entendre seemed debatable at first;

'the Dutch in old Amsterdam do it, not to mention the Fins. Folks in Siam do it, think of Siamese twins…'

The lyrics here give some insight into how Porter treated language – words were there to be played with.

Of course it is open to interpretation. The song has been covered countless times since it was written 84 years ago. When Sinatra and Shirley Maclaine sing it, we hear a PG rated courtship. Yet the same words as cooed by Ella Fitzgerald can only suggest a seduction at play.

Perhaps there is something on my mind as I listen to this album now, but seduction sure seems to set the tone of this record. In 'get out of town' Fitzgerald tells of a lust she wants to satisfy, but perhaps is forbidden to. In the end it is an affair that can only be ended by physical distance.

'Just one of those things' embraces the passionate encounter and decisions made by the body rather than the mind.

The subject of sex appears to snake its way into several of these tunes under Ella's guidance: a lover who visits unannounced in 'all through the night', only to be gone by daybreak, which in turn casts the spell of perpetual longing. The exasperated temperament of 'too darn hot'. Too darn hot for what? One can only imagine.

This songbook as delivered by Ella Fitzgerald has charm and persuasion, it's dark and funny and sexy and handsome. The enchanting production and the swoony arrangements of the huge studio orchestra add to the suggestive power of the lyrics. The listener has little choice but to surrender to the imagination and rapture on display here.

Need to be transported? Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook.

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