Oregon Festival of American Music 2011 is dedicated to two of the greatest practitioners of the classic Songbook, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra and their especial role in the establishment of that form as we know it today. During the 1950s and ‘60s the rise of rock and fundamental changes in popular culture and entertainment commerce pushed older popular music forms into the background and posed a particular threat to the classic Songbook compositional and performance style. Indeed, by the mid ‘50s all the established Songbook composers and performers, including Fitzgerald and Sinatra, faced serious career challenges.
Sinatra’s comeback as a performer was certainly in part due to his success as an actor, commencing with his Academy Award-winning performance in 1953’s From Here To Eternity. His comeback—and ultimate importance—as a singer began that same year with his signing with Capital Records: in a series of exceptional LPs issued during the rest of the decade and into the next, coupled with his commitment to the inherent character of the classic Songbook, he not only reestablished his singing career, he helped shape our understanding of what the American Songbook standard is.
Fitzgerald’s comeback, and her equally important contribution to the Songbook standard came in the form of jazz impresario Norman Granz. By the early ‘50s Fitzgerald’s Bop-based scat and improvisation style, which has always impressed jazz aficionados, was largely out of mode. Granz, brilliantly, established Verve records around her extraordinary voice in 1955 and over the next 8 years produced a collection of recordings each dedicated to a “straight” treatment of the best work of the best American Songbook composers–-the Gershwins, Berlin, Porter, Mercer, Ellington & Strayhorn, Arlen, Rodgers & Hart, and Kern. This series, collectively known as The Ella Fitzgerald Songbook, was certainly not the only recorded output of Fitzgerald at the time, nor was it even the best of her work during those years. It was, however, what propelled Fitzgerald to international popular success and did as much to shape the “classic American Songbook" as had Sinatra’s work at Capital.
We have used the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook as the structural model for OFAM 2011. Seven concerts--5 led by OFAM jazz director Ken Peplowski and the other 2 designed by Shedd favorites Shirley Andress and Siri Vik--mirror the Fitzgerald recordings, honoring the songs of each composer that Ella and Frank made their own. For our eighth concert, coming halfway through the festival week, jazz director Ken Peplowski departs only slightly, with a jazz party evening held in honor of Ella’s 1956-57 work with another great standard bearer for the Songbook – Louis Armstrong on 3 phenomenal Verve projects, Ella and Louis, Ella and Louis Again, and Porgy and Bess.
To round out the 2011 OFAM performance package with (as always) a classic American Songbook vehicle, we’re extremely pleased to present George & Ira Gershwin’s 1930 musical comedy masterpiece GIRL CRAZY. Heavily revised in 1954 and re-cast entirely in 1992 as CRAZY FOR YOU, GIRL CRAZY is American musical comedy at its best—stylish, witty, fast-paced and filled with great songs and plenty of dancing. We’ve located the original Guy Bolton/John McGowan script, which is truly 1930s in character and feel. With its brilliant Gershwin score—including such gold standards as “I Got Rhythm”, “Embraceable You”, “Sam And Delilah” and “Could You Use Me”—our original version recreation of GIRL CRAZY will be a treat for the entire family.