Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, by Ella Fitzgerald

1956 was a pivotal year for Ella Fitzgerald. The singer was at that point a veteran jazz singer, 20 years after she started singing with Chick Webb’s band. Between the mid 30s and late 40s she was signed to Decca Records and released many 78rpm singles, now available on CD collections produced by the French reissue label Chronological Classics. In the late 40s she caught up to the Bebop craze and started her trademark scat singing, an attempt to perform phrases similar to those played by horn players. But as the 50s rolled in and Bebop got a little old, Ella was looking for a change.

ella-fitzgerald-chronological-classics

Chronological Classics – Ella Fitzgerald’s Decca Recordings

Enter Norman Granz, who added her to his celebrated Jazz At The Philharmonic concert tour in 1949 and soon after became her manager. Granz adored Ella’s singing, and realizing that her output at Decca was lukewarm at that point, he formed the Verve label in 1956 and snatched Ella from Decca in order to provide a platform on which Ella can record and release new material. And what a first year for the label and the singer it was.

ella-fitzgerald-and-norman-granz

Ella Fitzgerald and Norman Granz

The album that Granz conceived to launch Verve was Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book, the first in a series that would continue for the next eight years, a monumental project to record the American songbook, the canon of popular American music from the early 20th century. Granz’s idea may have been influenced by the 1950 Ella Sings Gershwin, a 10″ LP on Decca, but  he was after a different take on the American standards. The style he was hearing was popularized by Capitol’s recordings of Frank Sinatra in the early 50s with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. In 1955 Sinatra released In The Wee Small Hours, a classic to this day and one that left such an impression on Norman Granz that he immediately wanted Nelson Riddle to work with Ella. But that was not to be at the time due to Riddle’s exclusive contract with Capitol. Riddle would join the project in 1959 for the George and Ira Gershwin’s songbook.

Granz decided to take a chance on the 24-year old arranger Buddy Bregman, whom he also made Verve’s A&R man. The collaboration between Bregman and Ella yielded the first two albums on the American songbook series, dedicated to the songs of Cole Porter and then Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, both of them recorded and released in 1956. In between Ella managed to squeeze in one more album with Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis, the first in a series of three albums, the last one being their immortal take on Porgy and Bess a year later.

buddy-bregman-1956

Buddy Bregman

In August 1956, five days after she finished the recording of Ella and Louis, Ella was back in the studio with Buddy Bergman to record the Rodgers and Hart album. Bergman does a wonderful job as an arranger,  providing the commercial flavor required to increase the sales of the record and help the new Verve label in a competitive market, but never losing the jazz feel. Norman Granz on the other hand did not care as much about the arrangements as long as his singer’s voice will be prominent: “When I recorded Ella, I always put her out front, not a blend. The reason was that I frankly didn’t care about what happened to the music. It was there to support her. I’ve had conductors tell me that in bar 23 the trumpet player hit a wrong note. Well, I don’t care. I wasn’t making perfect records. If they came out perfectly, fine. But I wanted to make records in which Ella sounded best.”

Ella Fitzgerald - Rodgers and Hart songbook

Original Rodgers and Hart songbook release, 1956

I love the orchestral arrangements behind Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, but my favorite of the songs she recorded in 1956 was one of the few that were recorded in a small group format. The song is Bewitched, or in its full name Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, which was recorded on August 29, 1956 with a quartet that included Paul Smith on piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Joe Mondragon on bass and Alvin Stoller on drums. The song originally appeared in the 1940 Broadway musical Pal Joey, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. At the time Ella recorded Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered in 1956 not too many performances of the song existed outside of Broadway, and the best known version was by Vivienne Segal, who played the leading role in the musical. Her performance was of the semi-operatic style, typical for many musical shows of the time. Ella, on the other hand, gives this song the emotion that Segal’s version lacked. William Simon wrote in the back cover of the original vinyl release in 1956: “Ella still can do those rope-skipping tunes with her old sassy bounce, but she can also handle nuances of grown-up wit and humor – certainly one of the prime requisites with Lorenz Hart Lyrics – by turns satirical, sardonic, sexy, sophisticated – and then, sweetly simple”.

Pal-Joey_souvenir-program_1952_pg1

Pal Joey playbill from 1952

Ella sings the full version of the song, a unique occurrence not only because of its length, over seven minutes, but mostly because of the risqué nature of the lyrics farther towards the end of the song:
When he talks, he is seeking
Words to get off his chest
Horizontally speaking, he’s at his very best

Vexed again, perplexed again
Thank God, I can be oversexed again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Mel Torme, Linda Rondstat and many others sing the short version. Kudos to Ella and Norman Granz for selecting to sing the full version. Ella was known for her shyness, and these lyrics surely were challenging for her. She sings them in a detached manner, cleverly avoiding the trap of over-sentimental delivery.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like these:

What’s New, by Helen Merrill

Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, by Nina Simone


After one whole quart of brandy

Like a daisy, I’m awake

With no bromo-seltzer handy

I don’t even shake

 

Men are not a new sensation

I’ve done pretty well I think

But this half-pint imitation

Put me on the blink

 

I’m wild again, beguiled again

A simpering, whimpering child again

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

 

Couldn’t sleep and wouldn’t sleep

When love came and told me I shouldn’t sleep

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I

 

Lost my heart, but what of it

He is cold I agree

He can laugh, but I love it

Although the laugh’s on me

 

I’ll sing to him, each spring to him

And long for the day when I’ll cling to him

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

 

He’s a fool and don’t I know it

But a fool can have his charms

I’m in love and don’t I show it

Like a babe in arms

 

Love’s the same old sad sensation

Lately I’ve not slept a wink

Since this half-pint imitation

Put me on the blink

 

I’ve sinned a lot; I’m mean a lot

But I’m like sweet seventeen a lot

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

 

I’ll sing to him, each spring to him

And worship the trousers that cling to him

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

 

When he talks, he is seeking

Words to get off his chest

Horizontally speaking, he’s at his very best

 

Vexed again, perplexed again

Thank God, I can be oversexed again

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

 

Wise at last, my eyes at last

Are cutting you down to your size at last

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more

 

Burned a lot, but learned a lot

And now you are broke, so you earned a lot

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more

 

Couldn’t eat, was dyspeptic

Life was so hard to bear

Now my heart’s antiseptic

Since you moved out of there

 

Romance, finis, your chance, finis

Those ants that invaded my pants, finis

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more

Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , ,

Leave a Reply