Friday, November 9, 2018

Porgy and Bess

No. 295 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


At last count, in my Internet Archive collection, I have about 470 audio entries, and a few videos – over the years, only two have been expunged by the site managers due to copyright claims. Today, I’m re-issuing one of these audio shares, originally issued under my Tuesday series Once Upon the Internet by creating a “mashup montage” and combining it with another like-minded work.

Cast recordings of George Gershwin’s lone Grand Opera Porgy and Bess date back to 1935 and the early forties (when the opera was revived after Gershwin’s death). Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture is a 1942 album arranged by Gershwin's collaborator and sometimes arranger Robert Russell Bennett, which includes most of the best-known songs from the opera, although not in the exact order of their appearance. While some of the more esoteric parts of the opera are absent, many of the catchier tunes that can be heard in this suite are absent in others, including Gershwin's own Catfish Row Suite, which tended to highlight the more cerebral elements of the work.

Porgy and Bess has been the subject of many so-called “concept albums”, some of which have had snippets shared on past montages over the years. Two seminal concept albums – both from jazz legends dating from the same year, 1958 – come specifically to mind: Miles Davis’ East-Coast Studio effort and one by the duo of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong from the West Coast. The latter is presented in its entirety here today.

The album is considered the most musically successful amongst the jazz vocal versions of the opera and was released to coincide with the 1959 movie version. In 2001, it was awarded a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, a special achievement prize established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance." The arranger on this album, Russell Garcia, had previously arranged the first jazz vocal recording of the work, 1956's The Complete Porgy and Bess.

A review of the album claimed "What's really great about the Ella and Louis version is Ella, who handles each aria with disarming delicacy, clarion intensity, or usually a blend of both... Pops sounds like he really savored each duet, and his trumpet work – not a whole lot of it, because this is not a trumpeter's opera – is characteristically good as gold. This marvelous album stands quite well on its own, but will sound best when matched with the Ray Charles/Cleo Laine version, especially the songs of the Crab Man, of Peter the Honey Man, and his wife, Lily the Strawberry Woman."

The performance, unlike the Miles Davis version, proposes nearly all the songs (arias) from the opera, and except for the long “overture” does not provide instrumental tracks for Armstrong to perform at the Trumpet, save for a relatively short introduction to “I Got Plenty of Nuthin’”

I Think you will Love this Music too

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