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Music Review: Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass – Easy Living

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Easy Living by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass is one of six new reissues by The Concord Music Group in their ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Ella Fitzgerald was considered an American icon by the time she passed away in 1996, after a nearly six decade career. She was considered one of the unique and innovative vocalists in jazz history and she sold tens of millions of albums during her the course of her career.

Joe Pass, 1929-1994, is sometimes a forgotten musician, but his innovative use of chord changes and phrasing would influence a generation of jazz guitarists. Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass came together during 1973 and over the next 13 years would record four studio albums together, and their label would release a number of live recordings. Pass and Fitzgerald would also form a relationship on stage as he would augment her basic trio upon occasion, plus they would perform as just a duo from time to time.

Fitzgerald recorded a number of albums with the piano as the primary melodic instrument, but it was her time as the foil for Pass’ guitar virtuosity that would push her into new vocal territory and challenge her to explore different styles and sounds.

Easy Living was released during 1986 and was their final studio album together. By this time they had settled into an easy going musical relationship. Pass would follow Fitzgerald’s vocal leads effortlessly. Her ability to change tone and even lyrics and Pass’ ability to not only follow her but to provide instrumental backing and balance speaks well for the quality of their relationship. The songs have a jam like feel at its most basic.

The 15 tracks from the original release are presented with a new clarity due to 24-bit remastering. New liner notes give a history of the album’s recording process. Also presented are the original liner notes by Benny Green. Two alternative takes are included as bonus tracks.

The material consists of pop classics from the Great American Songbook and some light jazz tunes, which were similar to most Ella Fitzgerald albums. Many of the songs are reinterpretations of numbers she had previously recorded in different settings.

This was the only time she recorded “My Ship,” written by Gershwin and Weill. It was a good song to lead off the album as it allowed Pass room to experiment with sounds, yet not interfere with Fitzgerald’s vocal. “My Man” was a signature Billie Holiday song although it was written during the early 1920s. Their take is more inventive as she bends the lyrics and phrasing to fit her style and Pass follows right behind.

She recorded “Moonlight In Vermont” a number of times but this sparse and simple rendition is unique and more satisfying. She first recorded “I’m Making Believe” with The Ink Spots in 1944 in a group setting. Now the song is stripped to basics. “On Green Dolphin Street” was originally recorded with strings but here it is just voice and guitar. And so it goes. All the tracks have a cohesive feel due to the Fitzgerald/Pass interaction.

It’s nice to have Easy Living back in a remastered form, as it is one of the unique combinations of not only their careers, but of jazz music as well.

 

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