VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Porgy and Bess Mixtape”
Porgy and Bess is a 1935 opera composed by George Gershwin with a libretto by DuBose Heyward and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Heyward. It was based on Heyward’s novel Porgy and on a play Heyward co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward. The opera premiered in New York in 1935 featuring an all black cast of classically trained singers.
Although not without controversy, Porgy and Bess went on to become the most acclaimed and popular American opera. A number of the songs from Porgy and Bess are now standards of American music, among the most recorded are “Summertime,” “I Loves You Porgy,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
In jazz circles, Miles Davis’ interpretation in collaboration with arranger Gil Evans is the most celebrated but there is also the famous Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald version that is critically acclaimed.
What I decided to do was cobble a wide variety of takes into a seamless mini-opera with some selections featuring multiple takes both vocal and instrumental. A number of the individual elements are undoubtedly unfamiliar to most listeners and beyond that, some of the contributions from better known artists are rare. Plus there is a plethora of surprises.
Some of the individual segues are so subtle, one might not know when one song ends and the following begins but nonetheless here is the lineup:
1. Sammy Davis Jr. – “spoken introduction” - Boy Meets Girl
This is from an album Sammy cut with Carmen McRae. Although I only use a snippet, it’s a good album.
2. Rene Marie – “I Loves You Porgy” – Live At The Standard
Rene Marie offers maximum drama at minimum volume. The listener is forced to draw near in order to hear everything. Although the song is uttered sotto voice, the dynamic range of emotions is wide, wide, wide.
3. Gerardo Gandini & Ernesto Jodos – “I Loves You Porgy” – De/Generaciones
Gerardo is an Argentine pianist and composer of note who works in the disciplines of tango, classical and jazz. This is from a duo piano album.
4. Chaka Khan – “I Loves You Porgy” – Echoes of an Era
Echoes of an Era was a jazz band that made three or four recordings, one of which featured Chaka Khan on vocals—an inspired although not always successful choice, nonetheless, as she demonstrates here, when Chaka does get it she really delivers a dramatic and driving performance. The stellar band is Joe Henderson – tenor, Freddie Hubbard – trumpet, Chick Corea – piano, Stanley Clarke – bass, Lenny White – drums.
5. Mederic Collignon – “I Loves You Porgy” – Porgy and Bess
Some crazy young French musicians taking Porgy and Bess international and what a wild ride. The band is Mederic Collignon, cornet, bugle, voice; Franck Woeste, Fender Rhodes; Frederic Chiffoleau, bass; Philippe Gleizes, drums; and Marie Menand, voice. The album takes off from Miles’ 1958 version; it both does and does not sound like Miles. Tres interesting, tres different.
6. Ernestine Anderson – “Summertime” – Ballad Essentials
Ernestine Anderson is a true, old school jazz vocalist who offers us a sterling interpretation of a song that has been done so often most of us can sing along without even thinking. Indeed, we have done two major BoL “Summertime” features (here and here) and yet here we have another great version that we are presenting for the first time.
7. Miles Davis – “Summertime” – Porgy & Bess
Miles. Enough said.
8. Ray Charles and Cleo Laine – “Summertime” - Porgy & Bess
I rank this long out print recording second only to Ella & Pops in terms of vocal renditions overall even though I give an edge to Ray over Pops.
9. Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald – “It Ain’t Necessarily So” – Porgy & Bess
The epitome of old school, a jazz treatment that will be revered as much tomorrow as it is today and yesterday. Especially enjoy Ella's peerless purity of vocal tones while swinging like mad at a slow and medium tempo (check her brief scat and the way she hits her notes cleanly while making broad interval jumps).
10. Joe Henderson – “Here Come De Honey Man” – Porgy And Bess
A subtle and sly sax snippet from a master of understatement.
11. Ray Charles – “Here Come De Honey Man” – Porgy & Bess
A sexy snippet from a master.
12. Mederic Collignon – “Here Come De Honey Man” – Porgy And Bess
13. Miles Davis – “There’s A Boat That’s Leaving For New York” – Porgy & Bess
13. Nina Simone – “My Man’s Gone Now” – The Blues
Nina undoubtedly has the most popular vocal version of “I Loves You Porgy,” indeed her take is the standard but this not as well known essay is utterly devastating. A must hear musical experience.
14. Miles Davis – “My Man’s Gone Now” – Porgy & Bess
15. Ray Charles – “Oh Bess” instrumental – Porgy & Bess
Ray Charles demonstrates his jazz piano chops—any questions? The man was truly a genius.
16. Ray Charles – “Oh Bess” vocal – Porgy & Bess
Ray Charles demonstrates his jazz vocal chops—any questions? The man: pure genius.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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