"Mack the Knife" as performed by Ella Fitzgerald
I inadvertently discovered today that Ella Fitzgerald's birthday is a few days from now. She would've been ninety-eight. Normally, the birthday boy or girl gets presents and other extra demonstrations of love: cake, singing, smiles, forgiveness, attention. Death (especially long-ago death) obviously makes that a problem, but I guess the last of those gifts is possible, even with the recipient's absence from the festivities. In the case of Ella Fitzgerald, let my taking of her brilliance and beauty (my attention) be my giving. Happy Birthday, Ella Fitzgerald!
I've been listening to her all afternoon, and only because as a musical amateur I have no filter that might help me choose the greatest instances of her greatest singing (that's just too much sifting), I offer you (you get a present, too!) this tuneful, swinging, clever, immediately brilliant, brilliantly immediate performance. Digging into this great song, the forty-three-year-old Ella Fitzgerald starts by identifying herself as a girl (on April 25th, she's the birthday girl!) who's hoping to remember "all the words." By the second verse, you know she hasn't, which doesn't matter since what follows is so imperfectly perfect: scat singing that puts sensible English syntax to shame, playful vocal shifts, witty self-mockery, ecstatic players -- an aural encyclopedia of casual, musically dazzling craft and execution, all of it in just four-and-a-half minutes.
(Rappers, take note: Ella Fitzgerald, right on the spot, some fifty-five years ago in Berlin, Germany, rhymed "recognize it" with "surprise hit.")