Listening Quest #9: Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 by Vicki Martin | Listening Quest

This week it's two for one! It's not hard for Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, since they often worked together and put out three albums together. Louis was born in 1901 and Ella in 1917, and they are both jazz singers who grew up poor and black but became known as top-notch musicians who helped turn jazz music into popular music. This song, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", is from their second album, Ella & Louis Again, recorded in 1957. You'll hear Louis's characteristic low growly voice (though you won't hear him play trumpet on this recording) with Ella's smooth and clean voice.

Between the two of them, they made scat singing popular in jazz. Louis was one of the first to do it, and Ella became one of the masters. What is scat singing? Well, it's taking the art of improvising and making your own music one degree further by singing nonsense syllables instead of regular words to the song, like this:

Interestingly enough, it was almost accidental that scat singing became popular. Louis's first recording with it was on the song "Heebie Jeebies", and as the story goes:

At a recording session for Okeh Records, when the sheet music supposedly fell on the floor and the music began before he could pick up the pages, Armstrong simply started singing nonsense syllables while Okeh president E.A. Fearn, who was at the session, kept telling him to continue. Armstrong did, thinking the track would be discarded, but that was the version that was pressed to disc, sold, and became an unexpected hit.  (Thank you, Wikipedia!)

Extra Exploring: Want more? Try these out:

Ella sings O Lady Be Good:

Louis plays trumpet and sings They Can't Take That Away with Ella:

Louis sings live, with scat & trumpet in Hello Dolly:

Listening Quest #8: Chilly Gonzales

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 by Vicki Martin | Uncategorized

Happy new year! Since the new year is all about new things, let's have some new music! This week I'd like to introduce you to Chilly Gonzales who is both a pianist and composer. He started out as a pop musician and still works as a producer and songwriter for pop musicians like Feist. If you remember the original iPad commercials, then you probably remember his song, Never Stop. He put out a couple of albums, Solo Piano and Solo Piano II, both of which are - you guessed it - solo piano albums with music that he composed. His style on these albums is a cross between classical and pop - those who listen to classical music regularly would consider it to be more pop music, and those who listen to pop music regularly would consider it to be more classical. In his latest album, Chambers, released in 2015, he swings closer to the classical side by adding the Kaiser String Quartet to create some modern chamber music. This song, Odessa, is from that album, and here he is to introduce it to you himself.

Oh, and Chilly Gonzales also holds the world record for the longest solo-artist performance with a total time of 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds. Wow.

Extra Exploring: Chilly also did an interesting little set of masterclasses for CBC Music, explaining musical principles like moving motifs, I-V-I chord progressions, and cadences using contemporary Canadian pop music. Have a watch: