What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Tommy Flanagan's Superb "Lady Be Good ... For Ella"

One of my all-time favorite jazz albums is Tommy Flanagan’s 1994 Lady Be Good … For Ella, with Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. Flanagan was a superlative improviser, who respected the melody even as he spun brilliant variations on it. New Yorker jazz critic Whitney Balliett said of him, “It is rare to come away from hearing Flanagan without something new and ingenious” (Night Creature, 1981). Flanagan was Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanist from 1968 to 1978. After that, he went solo (sometimes with bass and drums, or just bass). He died in 2001.

Lady Be Good … For Ella contains eleven beautiful songs, including a dashing “How High the Moon,” an exquisite “Angel Eyes,” and two inventive, completely different versions of Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady Be Good.” The highlight, for me, is Flanagan’s sparkling performance of an arresting, seldom-heard Sammy Cahn tune called “Pete Kelly’s Blues.”

Lady Be Good … For Ella is a superb album by a great jazz poet. 

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