Musikwissenschaft – Vol. 1

An appreciation of some of the finest performances in musical history.

 

In this first volume we take a look back at Billy Stewart’s breathtaking rendition of George Gershwin’s Summertime.  The piece, originally a gentle, dreamy lullaby, was composed in 1935 for the American folk opera Porgy And Bess.  It soon became a popular jazz standard and has been recorded in a variety of different styles by a countless number of artists including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Sam Cooke, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Janis Joplin and The Doors, making it one of the most covered songs of all time.

 

Stewart’s audacious interpretation of Summertime was released on Chess Records in the summer of 1966 as the first single from his Unbelievable LP.  The album failed to achieve any real commercial success but his version of Gershwin’s favourite that had previously earned him first prize in a local talent show as a youngster landed him a Top 10 hit on both the pop and R&B charts.  Aptly nicknamed “Fat Boy”, Stewart was surprisingly agile for a man of his size and his energetic performances and flamboyant on-stage theatrics captivated audiences.  It is this explosive energy and excitement that stands Fat Boy’s arrangement of Summertime above the rest.  The scat-singing motor mouth totally destroys the mic while the band (which featured Bo Diddley on guitar, a young Maurice White on drums and the superb Bunky Green on solo alto sax) throw out a mad frenzy of bad-ass jazz.  Stewart’s method of stuttering improvised lyrics, ability to double up words and trill his lips as well as his tendency to holler wildly generated an authentic display of organised chaos that will probably never be matched.

 

Aside from Summertime, Fat Boy had only managed to create a handful of successful singles during his thirteen years with Chess Records, most notably soul ballads I Do Love You and Sitting In The Park, and his music career began to dwindle.  Despite developing diabetes due to increasing weight problems Stewart continued to write and record music in the hope that he could produce another big hit.  However, in 1970 Stewart and three of his band members were tragically killed when his brand new Ford Thunderbird veered off a bridge and into the Neuse River in North Carolina.  He was 32 years old.  The accident occurred shortly before Stewart was scheduled to begin working with the great Duke Ellington, who had been impressed with his unique vocal style while watching him perform in concert, and the recording sessions that looked likely to give him his big break never took place.

 

We hope that you appreciate the complete uncut studio recording instead of the trimmed-down version that was played on most radio stations back in 1966.

 

Billy Stewart – Summertime

 

 

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