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Library Of Congress Opens 'Jazz Singers' Exhibition

TRANSCRIPT


LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Toe tapping is in order at the Library of Congress right now. The library's music division has an exhibit on jazz singers - photo, letters, video clips, scores from their vast and various collections. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says the show brings smiles and some revelations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELLA FITZGERALD SONG)

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing, unintelligible).

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Even scratchy TV audio can't blunt the ultimate jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, with the Duke Ellington Orchestra lighting up a monitor in the library as they lit up screens in 1959 on "The Bell Telephone Hour."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT")

FITZGERALD: (Singing) Now that your lips are burning mine, I'm beginning to see the light. I'm beginning to see the light.

GINNY CARR: To me, Ella's singing embodies the joy of jazz.

STAMBERG: Singer Ginny Carr, leader of the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet, is a huge Fitzgerald fan.

CARR: She's playful. She's humorous. She is just there taking you on the ride of your life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT")

FITZGERALD: Now that your lips are burning mine, I'm beginning to see the light.

STAMBERG: A photo by William Gottlieb shows Ella sporting a big, feathery hat and even bigger grin. You can almost hear the grin in this faceoff with trumpet playet player Roy Eldridge.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "C-JAM BLUES")

FITZGERALD: (Scatting).

LARRY APPELBAUM: (Playing trumpet).

(APPLAUSE)

APPELBAUM: It becomes like two great gladiators.

STAMBERG: Curator and senior music specialist that Larry Appelbaum.

APPELBAUM: They do it out of love, but there's a kind of competition there.

STAMBERG: Singer/composer/arranger/drummer/author/actor Mel Torme makes an appearance in the jazz singer's show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRST LADY OF SONG")

MEL TORME: (Scatting).

STAMBERG: There's a striking photograph.

CARR: In a fog, in a mist, a beautiful mist (laughter).

STAMBERG: Torme was called the Velvet Fog. In the photo, he's young, handsome and sports a pompadour. Curator Larry Appelbaum says photographer William Gottlieb invented a way to swirl what looks like fog under Torme's chin.

APPELBAUM: They put dry ice in the sink of the dressing room. Yeah. And it created this misty effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRST LADY OF SONG")

TORME: (Scatting).

STAMBERG: As you heard, the great ones, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, specialized in scat, improvising on the melody with nonsense syllables. Vocalese is another kind of jazz singing. the kind of just thinking.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVENUE C")

LAMBERT HENDRICKS AND ROSS: (Singing) One day I was walking and finally came upon a series of alphabet streets - A, B, C, and D.

STAMBERG: Shown on an LP cover from the late 1950s by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. With Dave Lambert and Annie Ross, John Hendricks turned his trio into a vocal orchestra.

CARR: He not only vocalized, lyricized individual horn lines. But he lyricized the whole orchestra, the Basie Band. He wrote, you know, vocalese, lyricized lines to all of the little backup horn parts and the counterpoint lines. And it was brilliant.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVENUE C")

LAMBERT HENDRICKS AND ROSS: (Singing) Man, I really ought to tell you. I never saw such a beautiful sight. I need to tell you, man. It's a real delight. You'll dig it, too. I feel you do. What a scenic hike. It's a walk that you're bound to like. You got B on the one side, D on the other, C in the middle, baby.

STAMBERG: Louis Armstrong, Abbey Lincoln, Esperanza Spalding - jazz royalty over the decades is represented in this Library of Congress exhibition. One singer among them becomes the face of the show. Her photograph, again by William Gottlieb, is on the pamphlets and banners. It's an extreme close-up. Her eyes are closed. Her head tilts back. Her mouth is open. Billie Holiday is singing her heart out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS THE CHILD")

BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) Them that's got shall get. Them that's not shall lose, so the Bible says. And it still is news. Mama may have. Papa may have. But God bless the child that's got his own - that's got his own.

STAMBERG: The photo shows Holiday in the act of creation. Her voice holds the tragedies of her life - the drugs, the arrests.

APPELBAUM: But that's not why she was famous.

STAMBERG: Again, curator Larry Appelbaum.

APPELBAUM: She was famous because she was a great, great artist, a great interpreter. And this photograph captures that beautifully.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS THE CHILD")

HOLIDAY: Money, you've got lots of friends, crowding 'round the door. When you're gone and spending ends, they don't come no more.

STAMBERG: You leave this display of jazz singers wishing you had a club to head for - a dark, smokey place where the music embraces you for a while, makes you one with the singer, someone with a sweet, dreamy sound like Chet Baker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY FUNNY VALENTINE")

CHET BAKER: My funny Valentine...

STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY FUNNY VALENTINE")

STAMBERG: Sweet, comic Valentine, you make me smile with my heart.

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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