Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald...are they jazz?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by MRamble, Dec 13, 2013.

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  1. John Moschella

    John Moschella Forum Resident

    Christiansburg, VA
    Exactly, Ella is a Jazz singer, not so much Frank.
  2. Mike B

    Mike B Forum Resident

    New York City
    I see no significant stylistic difference between, say, Ella's Songbooks albums- and pretty much all her Verve studio material- and Frank Sinatra's most popular Capitol albums. Both have swinging, big band arrangements and use a lot of the same material.

    Live, both learned their chops and got famous playing with big bands. Later on Ella would perform with small bands and pick up some of the techniques of "modern" (be-bop) jazz. But I wouldn't say that's enough to make her "jazz" and Frank "not jazz."

    When I add a genre category to my digital files, I use very broad terms. If I can use "rock" or "rock 'n' roll" to describe The Beatles, Chuck Berry and the Talking Heads, then I can use "jazz" to describe Ella, Frank, Bird, Louis and Weather Report.
    hodgo and MLutthans like this.
  3. ShockControl

    ShockControl Forum Resident

    Singers from this era fall on different points of the spectrum between jazz and pop, not only based on their inherent abilities and instincts, but also the settings in which they worked. They came out of the big band era, which was as close as jazz ever came to being pop music.

    Ella is a jazz singer who made both jazz and pop records.

    While I would not specifically label Frank as a "jazz singer," I wouldn't say that he is not a jazz singer, either. He is part of a group of singers, including Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, and many others, who absolutely had the instincts of a jazz singer, but who made records along the way that may or may not be considered jazz records .
    hodgo likes this.
  4. mudwolf

    mudwolf New Member

    los angeles
    Big band was my dad's era he danced to them before WW2 when he was a teen. I really think that the early Jazz of New Orleans brought influences that took popular "polite" music and made it swing with brass, woodwinds etc. It was shocking at the time. From the "American song book" many were for stage shows and most of those were from the Jewish entertainers. And it all melded beautifully together became swing dance music, you could go in any direction you wanted, mostly toward making money.

    In the 50s you got more abstract challenging music which became BeB0p etc just like the art scene which went to abstract in New York. Fascinating period, I was attracted to Ella 7 years ago and wanted to hear great voices, I was a kid listening at home in late 50s DC area and remember the entertainers on TV variety shows. Just recently collecting a lot more and I find mentally challenging to my brain and ears. I'm tired of most Rock, give me something fresh to listen to, and vocalists have great voices and technique. The music has emphasis on melody and sophistication. I have a broad concept of Jazz tho there are sub-genres.
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  5. huge logo

    huge logo Well-Known Member

    I think that they are both Jazz. -- But some of the later Sinatra concerts like Live at radio city music hall is NOT jazz. It is just bad.

    I am reading the Miles Davis Downbeat Reader which is a collection of Miles Davis interviews and stories from the magazine and Miles is very complimentary of Sinatra when asked. Let me submit exhibit A on whether Sinatra deserve to be among the greats in Jazz:

    “At his home in Queens, a borough of New York City, Lester Young, one of the most original tenor saxophonists in jazz history, was telling me he never played a ballad without first learning the lyrics. I asked him his source for the lyrics. Pointing to a stack of recordings near his chair he said, “Frank Sinatra.” Later Miles Davis told me the same thing – he learned to get inside ballads from Frank Sinatra.” – Jazz critic Nat Hentoff (from the Frank Sinatra: New York box set liner notes)

    - See more at:
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  6. jh901

    jh901 Forum Resident


    Ella is clearly jazz, but I like the "Jazz Vocals" idea for them both. I wouldn't file any work of merit under "Easy Listening".
    Lawrence Schulman likes this.
  7. I too take issue with the appellation "Easy Listening." All the great jazz and pop vocalists were far from easy listening. I don't even know what "easy" means in this sense. Easy on the ears, easy on the eyes, easy to understand, easy to forget, nice 'n easy, easy to digest, easy to remember, easy to hum? Who knows? Another nonsensical classification made for record stores, which don't exist any more.
    Ridin'High, jh901 and DLant like this.
  8. Robin L

    Robin L Musical Omnivore

    Fresno, California
    They are both Jazz. In the case of Ella, pretty much pure, uncut Jazz. In the case of Frank, there's usually more "Pop" in the mix but that doesn't alter the fact that both of these vocal exemplars started as singers for otherwise famous Big Bands, Chick Webb for Ella, Tommy Dorsey for Frank. Everything about both of their vocal modes of address come from Jazz. Sinatra's obvious influence is Billie Holiday but Sinatra's breath control is as good as it gets. And Ella took Louis Armstrong's scat singing and drove it into the Bop era. In their respective ways, they are model Jazz singers.
    MRamble likes this.
  9. DLant

    DLant The Dap-Gort Staff

    Upstate New York
    The term "Easy Listening" has always pissed me off, and as we know, there is nothing easy about this sort of music. Complicated orchestrations, sophisticated melodies and lyrics.
  10. kailung

    kailung Forum Resident

    lincoln,Il Usa
    If you say that Frank was not an improviser, you are wrong. If you say he was not always a good improviser, you only need mention, "scooby dooby do,...."
    Beaneydave and SteelyTom like this.
  11. MRamble

    MRamble Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks to all for your input. I found this thread to be very enlightening. At this point, I do feel a bit more comfortable with the distinction of "jazz vocal" instead of straight jazz. Frank is a hybrid of a few different things but there were moments where his music and vocal delivery did contain some elements of jazz in it...but not as much as Ella's did.
  12. Beaneydave

    Beaneydave Forum Resident

    Frank was Sinatra- that's the only label I need.
    hodgo likes this.
  13. Oliviander

    Oliviander Member

    I got 3 categories in my collection

    Sinatra (as he is easily a category for himself)
    Cardanken and hodgo like this.
  14. Thurenity

    Thurenity Listening to some tunes

    Frank goes into the "Vocal" genre, in my collection. Ella either goes into Jazz or Blues.
  15. let him run...

    let him run... Forum Resident

    Colchester, VT USA
    Long ago I began to file away my collection strictly alphabetically. It makes all the genre questions disappear.
    The only separation is with my SACDs and DVD-A discs, but even then it's all alphabetical. Also audiophile disc's are arranged by label and then by letter.
    DLant and MRamble like this.

    RLPATTON Well-Known Member

    I would call Sinatra a Jazz singer for sure. Some might call him "Jazz-Pop" but there was never a rule that you needed to scat or bop phrase to be a Jazz singer. Even Billie Holiday didn't scat/bop phrase and was obviously a Jazz singer. He clearly had a Jazz phrasing/personalization approach to the songs he covered. Ella also did would some might call "Jazz-Pop" but she also had Bop phrasing. So the answer to both questions is YES.
  17. Raylinds

    Raylinds Forum Resident

    Ella was definitely jazz and could improvise with the best of them, especially when scatting. Jazz musicians had a huge amount of respect for her. She did some material that was more pop than jazz (especially on television) but she always swung!

    I consider Frank a jazz singer, but I can see why some may not agree. He could certainly swing, and did improvise melody lines and phrasing.

    Ella is in my jazz section of music, but Frank is in his own.
  18. doug1956

    doug1956 Forum Resident

    Waterloo Ontario
    When you think of jazz, you think of a syncopated swing rhythm based on triplets, blue notes (flattened thirds, sevenths and fifths),
    and improvisation. In my opinion, the main difference between Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra was that
    Ella was one of the very best scat singers (which qualifies as improvisation in a jazz sense) but Frank Sinatra
    didn't really have that aspect to his singing, at least to the same extent. But of course Sinatra was a fantastic vocalist
    and I file his albums with all my other jazz albums anyway. The MoFi Sinatra vinyl records are all fantastic!
  19. Jazz Nut

    Jazz Nut Active Member

    Ella was one of the best scat singers ever. She swung harder than most jazz instrumentalists. SHE WAS A JAZZ SINGER, but I think she would have considered herself a singer that sung jazz, pop tunes, and ballads.

    Duke Ellington called her the First Lady of Song.
  20. Sinatra-sometimes.

    Ella-You're darn tootin'.
    Jazz Nut likes this.
  21. Jazz Nut

    Jazz Nut Active Member

    Sinatra was Sinatra. He sure knew how to phrase a song, swung in his own way. He also surrounded himself with the best from the jazz world. His record with Count Basie at the Sands hotel, is fantastic. I don't know if he sung "be-bop" or strictly jazz songs. But he sung songs from the American Songbook which were certainly jazz influenced.
  22. rolaaar

    rolaaar Active Member

    Broken Arrow
    Is Neil Young folk, folk rock, country, country rock, hard rock, garage rock, grunge, new wave etc.? All of them, but it's easier to say he's a singer-songwriter, or just a rock musician. Ella and Frank can be more than one thing, but just put them under jazz, it's easier that way. The albums of Frank with Tom Jobim are not jazz. Everybody who knows a little about music beyond America knows that Bossa Nova has much more samba in it than jazz, João Gilberto even used to say that he just sang samba, not this "Bossa Nova" thing. What about Cuban music? People call it jazz just because it's easier that way, but if you travel to Cuba you'll be amazed by the amount of genres and styles they have there. How can you call Buena Vista Social Club a jazz album? And yet is in most of the lists of greatest jazz albums of all time. Go figure...
  23. David Ellis

    David Ellis Forum Resident

    Cheshire, UK
    I thought jazz originally meant sex (as in "having sex")
  24. aussievinyl

    aussievinyl Forum Resident

    Ella is a jazz singer while Frank is a jazz influenced singer , with his own way of phrasing. Ella doesn't affect me emotionally when she sings, whereas Frank does. However , I'm a great fan of both as they often used the best arrangers and musicians, as well as (mostly) singing definitive versions of incredible songs. You can sing along with Ella, but you realise how individual Frank was when you try to sing along with his phrasing. Both were not trained musicians, which is staggering.
  25. bilgewater

    bilgewater Forum Resident

    Both are among the greatest American singers of the mid-20th century, IMHO.

    When it comes to this question of what makes a singer a "jazz" singer, I suggest considering the Billie Holiday test: does the singer seem to want to be part of the jazz combo playing alongside him/her, or does the singer want to stand in front of the band (musically as well as literally)? If the singer means to join a jamming jazz band as if laterally, then she/he is acting like a "jazz" singer. Does the singer fade into the band while instrumentalists step forward to solo? Does the singer seem to be in conversation with improvising instrumentalists? If the singer means to always stand well in front of a band playing a strict arrangement, then the paradigm is different--aria, bel canto, pop, something different.

    Fitzgerald could do both, as evidenced on her 1950s Songbooks and her many later small-group jamming LPs where she's improvising all over the place.

    I'm not familiar with Sinatra's loosest with-the-band tracks. They are probably live albums rather than his better-known studio works. I know him best from the classic 1950s work where he is the genius bel canto soloist standing in front of an orchestra playing wonderful arrangements. I think of his sense of drama, nay melodrama, as being perhaps a bit too "straight" compared to the more typically centrifugal modern jazz aesthetic, even of the greatest balladeers like Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Bill Evans. But then I think of Johnny Hodges on a ballad, say "Blood Count," acting like a Sinatra-style singer standing in front of the Ellington Orchestra. And then I think of Sinatra "jamming" with Jobim in what sounds like an arrangement at once perfectly loose and perfectly inevitable.

    So there it is. "Jazz" singing is a moving target; it's not one thing. And jazz singing can come from an alto saxophonist too. We want things to be one way, sometimes; but they're the other way too.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2014
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