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Baker's Dozen

Languages Inhabited: Teju Cole's Favourite Albums
Teju Cole , August 24th, 2016 09:28

Following the publication of his first collection of essays, Known And Strange Things, the writer and photographer pens us his own Baker's Dozen, picking "as many kinds of albums that really mattered to me as possible"


Ella Fitzgerald ‎– Best Of The Songbooks (The Collection)
Were I to make a ranking of voices in the American 20th century, a ranking based on vocal flexibility and technical ability, I'd nominate only women: Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. The first two had considerably better material to draw on. And if I had to choose just one of the two, I'd choose Ella. Down in the dark depths, she's right there – well, almost right there – with Billie Holiday. She can match Sarah Vaughan for both dusky seduction and exhausted iniquity. But neither Billie nor Sarah could hold a candle to Ella singing the lighter fare, 'A-Tisket, A-Tasket', say, or 'Hooray For Love'. She can sound like a 12-year-old or like someone 60 years older. She was probably the finest instrumentalist of the age, or at least as good on her instrument, improvisationally speaking, as Coltrane and Parker were on theirs.

I could nominate Verve's 16-disc Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks. But let me try harder to keep to the rules, and suggest the three-disc compilation, The Best of the Songbooks. Ella's so good that, in my head, her versions of most standards – 'All The Things You Are', 'Love You Madly' – are the standard versions.