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GRAMMY Rewind: Ella Fitzgerald Wins Best Jazz Vocal Performance In 1977

Ella Fitzgerald at the 1977 GRAMMYs

 

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GRAMMY Rewind: Ella Fitzgerald Wins Best Jazz Vocal Performance In 1977

Fitzgerald won 13 total GRAMMYs during her illustrious musical career, taking home her first two golden gramophones at the inaugural GRAMMY Awards in 1959

GRAMMYs/Jan 1, 2021 - 11:00 pm

For the first episode of GRAMMY Rewind of 2021, GRAMMY.com travels back to 1977, when the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, took home her eighth GRAMMY win. Below, watch the jazz legend accept her GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for Fitzgerald & Pass…Again, her second album with guitarist Joe Pass.

Fitzgerald won 13 total GRAMMYs during her illustrious musical career, taking home her first two golden gramophones at the inaugural GRAMMY Awards in 1959. The first woman to be honored with the Recording Academy's Special Merit Award in 1967, she also has nine recordings in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.

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5 Artists Who Prove That The Great American Songbook Is Brilliantly Alive
Samara Joy

Photo: Meredith Truax

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5 Artists Who Prove That The Great American Songbook Is Brilliantly Alive

For some, the Great American Songbook is irrelevant, consigned to a dusty corner of history. To others, including 2023 GRAMMY nominee Samara Joy, the Songbook's venerated tunes form a living document worthy of love and adaptation.

GRAMMYs/Jan 9, 2023 - 07:50 pm

The Great American Songbook is an unquestionable bedrock of pop, rock and jazz. But these days, many seem ready to close it for good.

For the sake of argument, let's define it as a venerated patchwork of jazz standards, popular songs and showtunes from the former half of the 20th century; one prominent author supposes that it met its commercial Waterloo as the 1940s met the '50s. 

After the rock 'n' roll revolution and the creative fireworks of the '60s, critics generally viewed Great American Songbook albums by pop and rock artists with a jaundiced eye. But jazz-influenced artists from Willie Nelson (1978's Stardust) to Dr. John (1989's In a Sentimental Mood) continued to embrace the form to transcendent effect.

The Songbook is one component of the jazz-standard repertoire; therein, showtunes mingle with instrumental classics by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, and other titans. In this sphere, which often prizes forging ahead over perceived inertia, the Songbook has haters.

A simple Google search for "reddit hate jazz standards" will reveal that peanut gallery — one ready to throw Songbook stalwarts such as "Come Rain or Come Shine" in the garbage. In 2021, jazz critic Phil Freeman set off a Jazz Twitter brushfire with this take: "F— standards. Ban them for 20 years, like a controlled burn in a forest, and see what sprouts in their place." 

Freeman made that proclamation through the lens of predatory business practices — a very real problem throughout jazz history. But to any number of musicians themselves, the notion of getting rid of them altogether inspires horror.

"In order to say that, you have to be disconnected from Hollywood cinema, disconnected from the history of Broadway shows, disconnected from artists like Duke Ellington and Fats Waller," jazz vocalist Catherine Russell, who has been nominated for two GRAMMYs, tells GRAMMY.com. Her colleague Jo Lawry seconds this: "You're listening to the wrong people, or you're listening through the wrong ears."

In this regard, perhaps the ultimate “right person to listen to is Samara Joy. Reared on Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, the young vocalist climbed the ranks partly via "The Today Show" appearances to become nominated for a golden gramophone for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

"I think the only reason [the Songbook's connotation is] negative is because that's where a lot of people stop when it comes to jazz," Joy tells GRAMMY.com. "It's like this is the greatest it's ever going to get, and that's not true." 

Granted, the lion's share of Joy's catalog is standards; as far as youngsters are concerned, she's perhaps the leading light of the Great American Songbook. But her attitude on the Songbook is innately progressive. For her, they comprise a launchpad to new expressions.

And despite what John Coltrane and Nina Simone's famous deconstructions of the Great American Songbook might tell you, making standards fresh, vital and exciting doesn't require reinventing the wheel. 

When Joy sings a 1927 chestnut like "Stardust", it, by definition, has never been done before — because it's her doing it. This applies to a spate of recent jazz releases, both archival and new.

While it’s impossible to address every talented jazz artist who weaves magic from extremely well-trod material, here are five releases from the past year — one archival, three new — that reinvigorate the Great American Songbook.

And they do so not through radical reinvention, but through sheer emotion, personality and intelligence.

Ella Fitzgerald appears at The Frank Sinatra Show on May 9, 1958.

Ella Fitzgerald's Hollywood Blues

Just before the pandemic, the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation tipped off Verve Records to some intriguing entries in the Concord vaults — dozens of previously unreleased tapes from the First Lady of Song.

The first to be unarchived was 2020's dynamite Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes. In 2022, Verve followed it up with the lavish Ella at the Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook.

"I never knew Ella had performed the arrangements from any Songbook album live," Ken Druker, the SVP of Jazz Development at Verve Records, tells GRAMMY.com. "And then I checked with all the extreme Ella nerds, and none of them had heard of it too."

Ella at the Hollywood Bowl documents the second half of a 1958 concert, while Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes tackles the Cole Porter songbook. Her vocal genius charges Berlin ballads like "You're Laughing at Me" and "How Deep is the Ocean" with emotional electricity.

When she kicks up the tempo, Fitzgerald is even more irresistible. You may have heard "Cheek to Cheek" and "Let's Face the Music and Dance" a trillion times, but when she belts it, any perceived corniness melts away. The heart jumps for joy.

Samara Joy

Samara Joy. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Samara Joy's Forward-Thinking Nostalgia

If you're wondering if the old standards still have any life in them, well, Recording Academy Membership thought so — more than 60 years since that Hollywood Bowl gig.

At the 2023 GRAMMYs, rising vocalist Samara Joy is nominated for a GRAMMY for Best New Artist alongside cutting-edge artists not only in jazz (the memeified DOMi & JD Beck), but in Brazilian pop (Anitta), genre-blending R&B (Omar Apollo) and hipster-adored indie (Wet Leg).

Her nomination arguably demonstrates that Joy is no relic of the days of yore.

Take some time with her 2022 album Linger Awhile, and you'll find she's more interested in the future than the past. Joy isn't afraid to go for well-worn material like "Someone to Watch Over Me," but she's also finding fresh corners of the Great American Songbook — like adding her own lyrics to Fats Navarro's trumpet solo on "Nostalgia," in a process called vocalese.

Ultimately, Joy maintains reverence for the Great American Songbook — it launched her career — but doesn't feel wholly beholden to it.

"OK, learn all of these standards. Is that the end of musical discovery?" she asks. "No, I have something to say too. I can use what I learned as far as harmony and form and interpretation from those standards to write my own songs."

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Catherine Russell Makes It Last

Vocal master Catherine Russell exudes a powerful sense of ease and control with her instrument. It helps that she's part of a jazz lineage: the daughter of pianist, composer and arranger Luis Russell and bassist, guitarist and vocalist Carline Ray.

The music's clearly in Russell's DNA; it provides the glowing center of her 2022 album Send For Me. Regarding her version of "At the Swing Cats Ball," she said in a statement, "My mother had given me sheet music a long time ago, saying, 'your father co-wrote this tune, and Louis Jordan covered it.’"

On Send For Me, she returned to the well once more, immersing herself in material like "Did I Remember,’" "Blue and Sentimental" and "You Stepped Out of a Dream."

"They know how to say 'I love you' in a million different ways," Russell says of the core songwriting teams behind the Great American Songbook, like Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe

"The songs are reliable. They can be done in a variety of different ways," she says, her own crystalline vocals a statement in flexibility. "You can do them with a big band, with an orchestra. You can do them with just a piano and a vocal."

Jo Lawry

Jo Lawry. Photo: Erika Kapin

Jo Lawry Makes Courageous Bounds

In jazz, the trio format is innately thrilling because of the architecture of the thing: one player can summon some derring-do, make a daring leap, and it's incumbent on the next to catch them.

Vocalist Jo Lawry titled her next album Acrobats because she had to summon that gumption. 

"The trio is the format that melodic players explore when they want to push themselves," she explains. "I wonder if motherhood has had a part to play as well. It has made me a tiny bit braver, and a bit less inclined to try to fulfill anyone else's picture of what I should be as a jazz singer."

On Acrobats, Lawry tackles mostly standards ("Taking a Chance On Love," "Takes Two to Tango," "I've Never Been in Love") with the dynamic bassist Linda May Han Oh and heavily swinging drummer Allison Miller.

The enchanting result is like a jolt to the solar plexus. Lawry's glasslike voice perforates any baggage or stuffiness accrued by these tunes. This is partly because Lawry is able to map out the material on her own emotions.

"With 'I've Never Been In Love Before,' I wanted to just get completely swept away in the lack of safety of love, and what it feels like to not be in control of your emotions anymore, and somebody else has your whole destiny in their hands," she says.

And as for the ongoing vitality of the Great American Songbook as a whole?

"The melody and the harmony and the lyrics are this holy trinity of art that works so economically and perfectly together," Lawry states. "It's not dependent on anything other than those three raw materials."

Amos Lee

Amos Lee. Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Amos Lee Walks Into A Record, Lives In It

Interpreting the interpreter: it can be done, and done well. Bob Dylan did it with three Frank Sinatra-focused cover albums in a row — one of them a triple. And Amos Lee, who is also not a jazz singer, just did it with Chet Baker.

If you're unfamiliar with the Great American Songbook on a granular, lyric-by-lyric level, Baker's first vocal album, 1954's Chet Baker Sings, is a magnificent gateway. 

Therein, a young Baker barely scats and uses very little vibrato. He delivers the lyrics to tunes like "That Old Feeling," "Like Someone in Love" and "My Ideal" plain as day, cracking open all the pain and euphoria and rumination and humor through zero ornamentation.

Chet Baker Sings came to singer/songwriter Amos Lee during the nadir of the pandemic. "I was drawn to the aching and the tenderness," he reflected in a statement. "To the way it expressed sadness with levity, to the way it explored sorrow without becoming beleaguered by the depths of it."

Lee's resulting 2022 album My Ideal: A Tribute To Chet Baker Sings works because Lee never puts on airs as his equal, or successor; he simply loves this probing, innovative jazz classic so much that he wants to see what it's like to be Chet for a moment.

That record date, all those decades ago, rings forth brilliantly into 2023. Why? To borrow a phrase: “It's all about the tunes, man.”

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GRAMMY Rewind: Green Day Celebrates The "Danger And Fun" Of Rock As They Win A GRAMMY For 'American Idiot' In 2005
Green Day at the 2005 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Courtesy of the Recording Academy

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GRAMMY Rewind: Green Day Celebrates The "Danger And Fun" Of Rock As They Win A GRAMMY For 'American Idiot' In 2005

As Green Day accepted their Best Rock Album GRAMMY for 'American Idiot,' frontman Billie Joe Armstrong made sure to spotlight the culture of rock and roll.

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2023 - 06:15 pm

Nearly two decades after its release, Green Day's American Idiot remains one of the best-selling punk rock albums, both from the group's discography and within the genre. Home to Green Day's iconic tracks "American Idiot" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends," the 2004 album solidified Green Day's reputation within the rock world — and helped them win a GRAMMY.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, revisit the trio's GRAMMY win for Best Rock Album for American Idiot in 2005. The group's seventh studio album brought in five other nominations that year: the prestigious Album of the Year category, as well as Record of the Year, Best Rock Duo/Group Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song, and Best Short Form Music Video for "American Idiot."

As the group accepted their Best Rock Album gramophone, each member took a turn at the mic thanking various contributors to American Idiot, including producer Rob Cavallo and their manager, Pat Magnarella.

"Everybody at Warner Bros., thank you for your hard work here," bassist Mike Dirnt praised. "All the fans. Everyone at radio that plays rock and roll music still."

To close out the speech, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong echoed the support for rock music. "We know rock and roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time," he said, "so thanks a lot!"

Press play on the video above to watch Green Day's complete acceptance speech for Best Rock Album at the 47th GRAMMY Awards, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2023 - 12:17 am

Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.

So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.     

Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.

GRAMMY Rewind: MC Hammer Accepts A GRAMMY For "U Can't Touch This" With Gratitude, Faith & Patriotism On His Mind In 1991
MC Hammer at the 1991 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images

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GRAMMY Rewind: MC Hammer Accepts A GRAMMY For "U Can't Touch This" With Gratitude, Faith & Patriotism On His Mind In 1991

MC Hammer spoke from the heart as he claimed his trophy for Best Rap Solo Performance for "U Can't Touch This," one of two GRAMMYs he won for the rap classic.

GRAMMYs/Dec 30, 2022 - 06:33 pm

Today, MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" is known as one of the defining rap classics of the early '90s. Of course, the song was a massive hit upon its release, too — and it scored Hammer two golden gramophones at the 1991 GRAMMYs, in both rap and R&B categories.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, turn back the clock to 1991 and revisit Hammer's heartfelt, off-the-cuff acceptance speech for Best Rap Solo Performance. As he stood at the podium, the rapper admitted he didn't have the complete list of names of people he wanted to thank — so instead, he spoke from the heart.

"First of all, I would like to thank God for this honor," Hammer said. "Without Him, I know it's not possible."

He went on to thank the people at his record label who supported him throughout the creation of the song, and concluded with a mention of something that was weighing heavy on the hearts of many in early 1991: the Gulf War.

"Once again, I would like to send this one out to the family and the men and women who are putting their lives on the line for us in the Persian Gulf," Hammer concluded before he left the stage, receiving a rousing round of applause. 

The early-'90s Middle East conflict was a hot topic in the U.S. at the time of the 33rd GRAMMY Awards. Just before the 1991 GRAMMYs took place, Hammer was part of a star-studded, all-genre cast of singers who recorded a new group version of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" in light of the war. 

Press play on the video above to watch Hammer's full acceptance speech for Best Rap Solo Performance, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind. 

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