I am listening to Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book. I adore Ella Fitzgerald. I think there should have been an Ella Fitzgerald recording project called Ella Fitzgerald Sings Every Song Ever.
I am unabashedly biased in her favor, and can think of only one or two instances in all the recorded music I have of hers that I think could even have been improved, let alone where I think she made a mistake—and those are on imported discs of unknown and dubious provenance.
The impression I get so often listening to Ella Fitzgerald is that she sang on the basis of a kind of Necessity. Her voice had astonishing range and power in almost all registers, great emotional scope and depth, and did not lack delicacy, although she is not well known for it. One of the glorious things about the recordings we call the Song Books is the way they display her ability to take quite varied material and treat it as both the material that it was and also make it her own. She could take even Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers numbers that seem a little corny or square, and make them fresh while remaining paradoxically quaint or out-of-time.
All of it seems to be precisely what had to happen, a kind of singular perfection of each song—an odd thing to say about jazz-ish interpretations of popular songs, I realize. In those rare cases in which I prefer someone else’s version of a song, I still perceive something necessary and complete in what Ella did with it. It’s perplexing to me in a deeply satisfying way, and that’s why I can’t help returning to her. Her singing was a kind of Hegelian absolute of popular song, I think.
I think playing Ella Fitzgerald, and explaining what she’s doing, would be a good way to explain Hegel’s philosophical method.