If you haven’t dipped into the online Naxos Jazz Library before, do yourself a favour; and while you’re having a look, try some of our other fantastic music resources as well.
Stormy Weather, Lena Horne’s signature song, is an apt title for a singer and actress who had to face some fairly outrageous barriers and challenges throughout her formidable career. Possessed of a strikingly beautiful voice, looks that could light up the screen, and acting talent to match, she came up against the brickwall of racism rife in Hollywood and the entertainment industry at that time. Multi-talented and armed with a steely resolve to succeed, Horne became an outspoken human rights activist whilst pursuing an increasingly successful career as a nightclub singer and stage performer. By the time of her death in 2010 she was considered one of America’s pre-eminent performers and social activists, and her reputation continues to grow as her recorded legacy finds a new generation of admirers.
Although born in South Africa to Greek and Lebanese parents (who apparently met en route to Australia), Al Bowlly is generally regarded as one of the greatest British jazz vocalists of all time, with most of his career being spent in either England or America. Credited with the invention of crooning, Bowlly became a highly successful recording artist and was the preferred vocalist for some of the most important band leaders of the day, including Ray Noble and Lew Stone. He is credited with making over 500 records in a tragically short career that ended in 1941 when he was killed by a German bomb that dropped outside his home during the London blitz. He was just 43 years old but he left an astonishing legacy of some of the most beautiful singing you are ever likely to hear.
What can one say about Ella Fitzgerald that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? A voice of such clarity and ease as to take one’s breath away, her early chaotic years of family break-ups and bouts in various reform schools (and even a stint as a brothel lookout!), could hardly hint at the astonishing career to come. Fancying herself a dancer in her younger days, an unexpected vocal performance at a local Harlem talent quest in 1934 brought her to the attention of bandleaders such as Chick Webb and Benny Goodman, after which her career was off and running. In many ways there is Ella Fitzgerald, and then everyone else.
Benny Goodman, aka. the King of Swing, was one of the finest jazz instrumentalists of all time, his clarinet sound virtually defining the Swing era. Like so many jazz musicians, music allowed him to escape his humble origins in Chicago in the early decades of the 20th century, and America’s dance hall craze provided him with the perfect backdrop for his distinctive big-band brand of music making. To listen to the Benny Goodman Orchestra launch into a number like Sing, Sing, Sing is to hear an instrumental ensemble playing at the very top of its (or anyone else’s) game.
You can access all of these resources in the Library, or in the comfort of your own home if you are one of our Victorian registered members.
To end, I simply can’t resist this lovely version of Stormy Weather sung by the great Elisabeth Welch at the end of Derek Jarman’s marvellous film of The Tempest; surely Shakespeare would have approved, sailors and all!