The Ability to Swing: Vocal Jazz on a Summer’s Day

11 Aug

Whether it’s the lovely weather in the UK (finally!), or listening to Dr Bob Jones wonderful online radio shows (‘The Surgery’, every Sunday 3-5pm UK time on in which he features some great jazz dance classics in the first hour of each show (see his archive of shows at, but I’m loving hearing some really swinging vocal jazz tracks again.  These just sound so right for a cloudless summer day looking out across the Thames, or lying on a beach somewhere, as your mind drifts back to when you first heard these.  Heaven.

1) Ella Fitzgerald ‘Manteca’

Not the most relaxing of starts, but Ella tears up Dizzy’s classic in her own style.  From about 1970, when she was starting to cover contemporary pop songs as well as going back over old classics (see also her brilliant verison of ‘Get Ready’ from the same LP), this is probably not everyone’s idea of classic Ella, but is still utterly breathtaking.  Every time I listen to this I find myself sitting up straight, craning for every last note.  So much for relaxing by the water…

2) Julie Kelly ‘Better Than Anything’

Now this is relaxing – a lovely version of Bob Dorough’s great tune (a man who’ll get a post of his own shortly), I know nothing about Julie other than that she’s from LA and she recorded this jazz dance swinger on her debut LP in the early 80s (you can also find this on Bob Jones’s BBE comp ‘Jazz Spectrum vol 1’):

3) Tom Lellis – ‘Lucky Southern’

Another track that was big in the jazz rooms of soul clubs in the 80s, and one you don’t hear (much) anymore, this still sounds fresh and very original – a vocal jazz version of a Keith Jarrett song!  And it really swings.  Reminds me of upstairs at the Special Branch in 1986.

4) Patti Austin ‘Ability to Swing’

So, where we came in – the great Patti Austin recording a really laid back but on it version of a Thomas Dolby track from her ‘That Secret Place’ album.  Much later (1994) than the other tracks here, but still with that cool, finger snapping vibe.  Urban jazz that would sound great in a bar in New York or by a pool in Ibiza.


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