Summertime

Reviewed by mojo

Ahh, the languid life of Catfish Row, with Clara singing a lullabye to her baby.... It's such a beautiful, slow, bluesy minor-key song, and Ella makes the control of her voice so easy, it's a revelation to listen to her.

Prior to Ella I suppose I should thank Janis Joplin for introducing this gem to a young and impressionable Mojo. While I've whined many times before about how I tend to not care much for slow draggy ballads, Gershwin's "Summertime" is so utterly perfect, setting mood and experience to music, it leaves me breathless every time I hear it. Of course Janis was primarily a blues singer, and she had her own voice and her own take, and the version I'm most familiar with was recorded live in a seedy-sounding bar, complete with drunken louts and people dropping drinks. And it's still pretty freakin' awesome.

Ella, on the other hand, is on stage with thousands of worshipful fans--and we don't hear a peep out of 'em for the entire song. Partially because this is Ella, plumb in the middle of what is ultimately considered a LEGENDARY concert, but I think also because I don't think there's a prettier song out there that so catches you by the throat and holds you in complete thrall through its utter simplicity.

One time in my early twenties I had bought a book of Gershwin sheet music and I was sitting at the piano at my parent's house just noodling through the single-note melodies with my right hand while my aunts and my Favorite Mother were sitting at the card table playing pinochle. (That's what you DO when my Favorite Father's sisters come to visit--you PLAY PINOCHLE.) And one of my aunts would recognize every single song and start singing along after a measure or two, much to my amusement. It turns out my grandfather--whom I have never met--used to play in bands and she used to sing along with him as he preacticed, so she knew all the songs from the thirties and forties--which were mostly Cole Porter and the Gershwins. So I would just turn to the next page, start plinking out the next melody, and nine times out of ten she'd start singing it correctly. It was really pretty cool.

And then I came to "Summertime".

All I did was hit those three notes: dee dum deeeee.... and everyone at the table just smiled.

Summertime (1960)

in
Click below to hear a sample--or scroll down for associated media: 
From What Album(s)?: 
Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife
Disc Number: 
1
Composer: 
George Gershwin
Lyricist: 
DuBose Heyward
Time: 
3:02

From Wikipedia:

 

"Summertime" is the name of an aria composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward. The song soon became a popular jazz standard.

Gershwin is said to have based this song on a Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows), which he heard in a New York City performance by Oleksander Koshetz’s Ukrainian National Chorus.

Gershwin began composing the song in December 1933, attempting to create his own spiritual in the style of the African American folk music of the period. It is sung multiple times throughout Porgy and Bess, first by Clara in Act I as a lullaby and soon after as counterpoint to the craps game scene, in Act II in a reprise by Clara, and in Act III by Bess, singing to Clara's baby.

 Recorded versions (in alphabetic order)

  1. Cem Adrian on his 2005 album Ben Bu Sarkiyi Sana Yazdim
  2. Luis Arcaraz (released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-4416, with the flip side "It's the Talk of the Town"[1])
  3. Chet Baker - on Chet Baker Quartet Plays Standards
  4. Fantasia Barrino on her debut album Free Yourself
  5. Art Blakey - A Jazz Message (1963)
  6. Eva Cassidy on the 2008 release Somewhere
  7. Charlotte Church on her self-titled album
  8. John Coltrane - My Favorite Things (1960)
  9. Perry Como (released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-4530, with the flip side "While We're Young"[2])
  10. Sam Cooke in 1957
  11. Bing Crosby & Matty Malneck (originally recorded July 8, 1938 and released by Decca Records as catalog number 2147B, with the flip side "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby"[3]; re-released in 1947 by Decca Records as catalog number 24542, with the flip side "Love Walked in"[4])
  12. Bob Crosby & his Orchestra (recorded October 21, 1938, released by Decca Records as catalog number 2205B, with the flip side "I'm Free (What's New?)"[3])
  13. Miles Davis, on his album Porgy and Bess (1958).
  14. Deep Dive Corp. on their EP Summertime, 2000.
  15. Doc Watson recorded 1973, appears on the album Elementary Doc Watson/Then and Now, re-released in 1997 on the Collectables label. Recorded 1987-91 Doc Watson and David Grisman and released on the album Doc and Dawg by Acoustic Disc in 1997. More recent recordings with grandson Richard Watson.
  16. The Doors on their live album, Friday April 10 at Boston Arena, and an instumental verion on Live at the Matrix 1967.
  17. Tal Farlow on his 1969 album The Return of Tal Farlow (Prestige Records).
  18. Frances Faye (recorded about 1954,released by Capitol Records as catalog number 2842, with the flip side "Mad about the Boy"[5])
  19. Ella Fitzgerald, recorded in 1960, live in Berlin, on the Verve Records album Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin
  20. Flowers on their album Challenge!
  21. Peter Gabriel on the album The Glory Of Gershwin, produced by George Martin, 1994
  22. Al Gallodoro (recorded in 1951, released by Columbia Records as catalog number 39472, with the flip side "Hora Staccato"[6])
  23. Wayne Hancock on his album Thunderstorms and Neon Signs
  24. Richard Hayes (with the Eddie Sauter orchestra) (released by Mercury Records as catalog number 5833, with the flip side "Junco Partner (A Worthless Cajun)"[7])
  25. Billie Holiday (recorded July 10, 1936, released by Columbia Records as catalog number 37496, with the flip side "Billie's Blues"[8])
  26. Anne Jamison (recorded July 14, 1939, released by Decca Records as catalog number 2876A, with the flip side "Looking for a Boy"[9])
  27. Jazzamor on their album Lazy Sunday Afternoon
  28. Scarlett Johansson for "Unexpected Dreams – songs from the stars" and later performed on Live EPs released at the time of her debut album Anywhere I Lay My Head
  29. Janis Joplin released this song with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Some live versions have erroneously been credited with having Jimi Hendrix guesting on guitar, though in actuality the guitarists were James Gurley and Sam Andrew. [10]
  30. Sammy Kaye's Orchestra (released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-2390, with the flip side "June Is Busting Out All Over"[11])
  31. Angélique Kidjo, released on Keep on Moving: The Best of Angélique Kidjo (2003)
  32. Jerry Kruger and her Orchestra (recorded April 25, 1939, released by Vocalion Records as catalog number 4927, with the flip side "Rain, Rain Go Away"[12])
  33. Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians (recorded November 10, 1937, released by Victor Records as catalog number 25716, with the flip side "I'll See You in My Dreams"[13])
  34. Gordon MacRae (Recorded 1959) from the album 'Fascinatin' Rhythm: Capitol Sings George Gershwin.
  35. Paul McCartney on his 1988 album Choba B CCCP
  36. Colin Meloy on his album Colin Meloy Sings Sam Cooke
  37. Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli- Menuhin and Grappelli Play Gershwin, (1988)
  38. Joni Mitchell & Herbie Hancock on a Gershwin's 100th anniversary birthday tribute album Gershwin's World.
  39. Morcheeba on Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove, 1998.
  40. Charlie Parker String Ensemble (recorded November 30, 1949, released by Mercury Records as catalog number 11038, with the flip side "I Didn't Know What Time It Was"[14])
  41. Oscar Peterson trio on Night Train vol.3, released by Verve Records as catalog number 711 071, 1969.
  42. Jane Pickens (recorded June 19, 1940, released by Columbia Records as catalog number 35580, with the flip side "Negro Spirituals"[15])
  43. Courtney Pine on the album The Glory Of Gershwin, produced by George Martin, 1994
  44. Boyd Raeburn and his Orchestra (released by Guild Records as catalog number 111, with the flip side "March of the #oyds"[16])
  45. Red Saunders and his Orchestra (recorded December 31, 1953, released by Blue Lake Records as catalog number 101, with the flip side "Riverboat"[17])
  46. Nina Simone, 1999 album, "The Amazing Nina Simone/Nina Simone at Town Hall"
  47. Skamp on their 1999 album Angata
  48. Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra (recorded December 19, 1944, released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number RCA201500, with the flip side "I Got Plenty of Nothin'"[18])
  49. Billy Stewart, 1966, released as a single.
  50. Sublime on their song "Doin' Time" from their self-titled album.
  51. Ten Years After on their album Undead, 1968.
  52. The Twilight Singers on their 2004 album "She Loves You"
  53. Sarah Vaughan (recorded in December, 1949, released by Columbia Records as catalog number 38701, with the flip side "I'm Crazy to Love You"[19])
  54. The Zombies on their 1965 debut album, Begin Here