SONG: September Song
ARTIST: Ella Fitzgerald
Listen to it here:
September Song is an American standard composed by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. It was written in 1938 for the Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday and sings of feeling that youth was a waste of time, and in the stretch between May and December, the singer is looking forward to spending his “September” years with his love. The song has been covered by many, including Ella Fitzgerald in 1960.
Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia. Her first exposure to music was in the family church, but things changed when her mom died and her stepfather took her to live in Harlem with her aunt. Ella started skipping school and became a lookout at a bordello and when police caught on she was placed in a group home and moved to a reformatory school. At the age of 17 in 1934 Ella made her singing debut at the famous Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre. She was originally supposed to dance, but a dancing duo made her nervous and she decided to sing instead, and ended up winning first place. She started getting more and more noticed, but unfortunately her ‘scruffy’ appearance held her back. It wasn’t until 1938 that her version of “A-Tisket A-Tasket” (which she co wrote) that her career really started to take off. She started performing and recording with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and started a side project with her own group, but that fizzled in 1942. She started recording with Decca and saw a good amount of success there, and working with Dizzy Gillespie influenced her scat singing, which became a staple of her live performances. By 1947 she was considered one of the most influential singers of the time.
In 1954 she had a successful tour of Australia, although it was marred with racial discrimination by the airlines which caused her to miss the first few dates (she sued the airline and was awarded ‘a nice settlement’). By 1955 she left Decca and her manager created Verve Records around her. She was almost exclusively singing be-bop, but felt singing the Cole Porter Song Book was a turning point. Released in 1956 it was the first of eight Song Book Sets that Ella would record for Verve until 1964, and became the most well-known recordings in her discography. Ella toured about 40 weeks out of the year at this point, and she was one of the most sought after live jazz performers. She made a few film appearances and many television guest spots. By 1960 Verve was bought by MGM and they declined to renew Ella’s contract in 1967 and over the next few years she bounced around between different record companies. She surprisingly had a successful recording in 1972 with Jazz at Santa Monica Civic ‘72, which led her manager to found Pablo Records, for which Ella recorded an additional 20 albums. By 1991 her health started to fail and she made her last recording in 1991 and had her last public performance in 1993. After complications from diabetes and congestive heart failure, Ella passed from a stroke on June 15th, 1996 at the age of 79.
Ella was the first Black woman to win multiple Grammy awards.
Ella owes her stint at the popular Mocambo nightclub to Marilyn Monroe – Marilyn called the club’s owner and said she would sit at a front table every night if Ella got booked – they booked Ella and Marilyn was true to her word. The press went wild. Ella said that because of that, she never had to play a small jazz club again.
Ok, so I guess I’m writing a review of one of the greatest voices of the 20th century, cool cool cool. I feel like when you see something being sung by Ella Fitzgerald, you already know that it’s going to be a thoughtful and stunning interpretation. And of course, this is no different. I don’t think I’ve heard this song before, so it was a new one for me. I was excited to see that it was written in part by Kurt Weill because I love 1920’s German Weimar cabaret music, and Weill is the master. Anyway. This is such a beautiful, intimate arrangement, just Ella and an excellent pianist. The lyrical content is the kind that I just love – a mature, melancholic look at love, sweetly and tenderly enjoying your mate, and September, a month full of warm light and beautiful colour is such a striking way to describe a moment in one’s life. Ella handles this context so adeptly – in her voice you can hear the years and the experience, past triumph and pain; comfort in September and slight distress at the thought of one’s twilight years in November. Honestly this song and this interpretation is almost beyond reproach.
I’m not very original in saying this, but Ella’s voice is one of my all-time favourites. I love how warm, full, and round it is, but also sweet, and not without a little bit of scratchiness to it. I love how powerful she can be, and this song is an example of how tender and intimate she can also make her voice. I could go on and on, but the point is, some Ella would definitely be on my Desert Island discs. Now this song, I know it very very well. We played it as background music for dinners for forever and a day, but it was cheesier, faster, and void of the emotion that Ella infused into it. To be honest, when I saw that this song was up next, I thought, “aw crap, I hate this song.” Turns out I don’t at all hate this song, the way Ella treats it. Paul Smith on piano does an excellent job, accompanying with full, lush chords, getting out of the way in some spots, and filling in in others. His playing is incredibly sensitive. And, like many Kurt Weill tunes, this piece sounds simple, but there’s much more to it. The melody is lovely, and the harmonies work so well with the melody shape and the lyrics. This interpretation of this song is so lovely, and a wonderful find. I’m so glad we got to listen to this!
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
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