Billie, Ella or Sarah?

I have thought that Ella Fitzgerald was one of the great artists of the twentieth century and certainly the finest female singer, followed by Sarah Vaughan. I started listening to Ella thirty years ago in the Pablo recordings she made toward the end of her career with Joe Pass (when her voice was begining to fray) and then worked backwards over time. I have been bowled over by the artistry she demonstrates throughout her career and have thought that the live Jazz at the Philharmonic performances such as “Flying High” are particular highlights. She seems to me to excel in a wide variety of material and in every muscial setting. There is also a certain emotional reserve or detachment in her singing, but there is also a joy in her mastery, or so it seems to me.
Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal published Terry Teachout’s column on Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Holiday ranks first in Teachout’s estimation. He explained why he takes little pleasure in the work of either Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan:

Vaughan was a first-generation bebopper with a voluminous, tobacco-stained contralto voice that billowed forth from somewhere deep within her torso. Fitzgerald’s piping mezzosoprano, by contrast, was produced with a minimum of chest resonance, and though she salted her scat solos with bop clich


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