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Jazz Music

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Summertime

Summertime” is an aria composed in 1934 by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP.

Lyrics

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
So hush little baby, Don’t you cryOne of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing
And you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky
But ’til that morning, there ain’t nothin’ can harm you
With Daddy and Mammy standin’ bySummertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
So hush little baby, Don’t you cryOne of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing
And you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky
But ’til that morning, there ain’t nothin can harm you
With Daddy and Mammy standin’ by

The song soon became a popular and much-recorded jazz standard, described as “without doubt … one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote … Gershwin’s highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of blacks in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century”. Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has characterized Heyward’s lyrics for “Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now” as “the best lyrics in the musical theater”.

Porgy and Bess

Gershwin began composing the song in December 1933, attempting to create his own spiritual in the style of the African American folk music of the period. Gershwin had completed setting DuBose Heyward’s poem to music by February 1934, and spent the next 20 months completing and orchestrating the score of the opera.

The song is sung several times throughout Porgy and Bess. Its lyrics are the first words heard in act 1 of the opera, following the communal “wa-do-wa”. It is sung by Clara as a lullaby. The song theme is reprised soon after as counterpoint to the craps game scene, in act 2 in a reprise by Clara, and in act 3 by Bess, singing to Clara’s now-orphaned baby after both its parents died in the storm. It was recorded for the first time by Abbie Mitchell on July 19, 1935, with George Gershwin playing the piano and conducting the orchestra (on: George Gershwin Conducts Excerpts from Porgy & Bess, Mark 56 667).

The 1959 movie version of the musical featured Loulie Jean Norman singing the song. That rendition finished at #52 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

Musicologist K. J. McElrath wrote of the song:

Gershwin was remarkably successful in his intent to have this sound like a folk song. This is reinforced by his extensive use of the pentatonic scale (C–D–E–G–A) in the context of the A minor tonality and a slow-moving harmonic progression that suggests a “blues“. Because of these factors, this tune has been a favorite of jazz performers for decades and can be done in a variety of tempos and styles.

The 1959 screen adaptation of Porgy and Bess starred Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, and Diahann Carroll, with everybody dubbed except Davis and Bailey. Directed by Otto Preminger and produced by Samuel Goldwyn, the film won the 1959 Golden Globe Award for Best Picture -Musical and the 1959 Academy Award for Best Musical Score (Andre Previn and Ken Darby). Despite, or possibly because of, the lavish production values and the handsome cast, a common critical opinion is that the Broadway musical did not translate well to film.

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