There’s also a live concert she did in Germany in 1954 where she sings “I Cover the Waterfront” with Carl Drinkard on piano, and it’s Billie at her best. When she sings a lyric like “the great unknown,” she’s in touch with the great unknown, and she makes you in touch with it, too. Frank was like that. When Frank’s at his best, he delivers a lyric and makes you understand what it means.
You call it “method singing.”
Yes. Frank and Billie thought about their own lives when they sang, whereas Bing and Ella did not do that. Although, in the book, I say that sometimes Ella would do that. Like the Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie album. She had a young Norwegian boyfriend at the time, and I’m listening to the album, going, “Oh, there’s something a little different here.” Ella was human; she wasn’t just a singing machine. She did an interview in the early ’70s, and the host Brian Linehan says to her, “There’s a sexy quality about you,” and she looks delighted. If you listen to her music closely, it’s there.
You talk about how Billie Holiday deconstructed songs.
In the ‘30s, she would sing songs we think of as standards now, but they were new then, and she didn’t sing what was written. She was singing songs the way a jazz singer would in the ‘50s, 20 years later. When she would sing live, she didn’t care about pleasing the audience the way Ella did. Billie had negative thoughts about Ella as a singer that she wasn’t shy about expressing, not to the press but to other people. What I love, though, is that by the ‘50s, Billie changed her mind about Ella. She was listening with an open mind, and she heard that Ella had matured. She talked about it in interviews and praised her.
What about Judy?
Judy! On “The Judy Garland Show,” there’s some vocal damage here and there, but her voice is at its strongest. But in 1964, they pumped her stomach after a suicide attempt, and it damaged her vocal cords. They said, “Don’t sing for a year,” but you couldn’t tell Judy Garland what to do. She kept singing and never quite had the voice again because of it. Frank, somehow, kept his voice. He was still singing “Soliloquy” from Carousel when he was older, and he got away with it. He acted it. Frank and Barbra are similar. They both have enormous willpower.