The American label Verve is one of the most prestigious in music. Dedicated to jazz, it has a catalog of artists that any company would like to have on its payroll, such as Ella Fitzgerald or Nina Simone. These names are the key to its success, but so was the conviction of its founder, Norman Granz, to unite under one brand black and white artists in the mid-1950s.
Granz had started his career as a promoter a few years before the label took hold, in 1956. He had a clear bet against segregation and he proved it not only by bringing races together on stage, but also among the public. “The Verve label is one of the most important in the history of jazz; Not only because great figures such as Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday or Bill Evans passed through its ranks, but also because it acted as a powerful social agent against the injustice of racial segregation. Few people know today that it was the first record company to bring together black and white musicians, pay them the same and allow them to share a dressing room ”, recalls EL PAÍS music journalist Fernando Navarro.
It not only favored cultural exchange in a racial sense, but also an artistic one. Granz took jazz out of the small fringe venues and the late-night hours in which the festivities took place. jam sessions. He organized concerts in venues previously unthinkable, such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, and raised the category of the genre by broadening its audience. With these proposals, the Jazz at the Philharmonic concept was born, which traveled throughout the country breaking stereotypes.
Verve has been and is the home of jazz, home to legendary singers and musicians, but also emerging promises. Today he continues betting on new figures and supporting big names, such as the singer Diana Krall, the pianist András Schiff or the tenor Andrea Bocelli.
A collection with the best
EL PAÍS and the prestigious music label Verve launch a collection with the best of the company: Jazz Verve. Disks like High Priestess of Soul, by Nina Simone; Lady Sings the Blues, de Billie Holiday o Lester Young, con Lester Young with the Oscar Peter TrioThey are part of the list of 20 titles that will arrive every Sunday at the newsstands with the newspaper for 9.95 euros. It is also available on the EL PAÍS Collections website.
Each album will be accompanied by a libretto written by EL PAÍS journalists Iker Seisdedos, Fernando Navarro, Fernando Neira or Yahvé M. de la Cavada. The texts provide the necessary context for experts and novices to enjoy the themes that not only defined one genre, but also marked the future of others.
The album that inaugurates the collection, Ella and Louis, picks up the first meeting between the two stars, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, for Verve. Two more would follow. On the cover that he packed that album, he is seen wearing white socks and a striped shirt. Fitzgerald, sixteen years his junior, appears in a white dress, like a girl on Sunday, with an almost childlike expression on his face. With that simple image they gave the world an exquisite album that they shared with Oscar Peterson’s band, which also appears in the collection with Night Train.
High Priestess of Soul, by Nina Simone, is the second installment of the collection Jazz Verve, a work for which she was described as “the high priestess of the soul.” “Monumental performer, ungovernable character and incandescent spirit”, this is how Fernando Navarro defines her in the libretto that accompanies the album, in which he recalls that in addition to being a singer and pianist, “Simone was an ambassador for the black cause in the midst of the civil rights revolution. and an extraordinarily sensitive soul. That combination showed the world a woman of a fascinating character, who from a very young age suffered from the opposite environment of black people in American society ”.
Like Fitzgerald, she used her voice and popularity to denounce on numerous occasions the unequal treatment and violence exercised against blacks, the same violence that they suffered in their own skin.
The powerful and feminine voices of jazz complete their triad with Billie Holiday. Iker Seisdedos defines her as “a singer who perhaps did not have the most powerful voice, nor the widest range, who perhaps was not a vibrato record holder or did not stand out for her coloratura, but who made history for her unmatched ability to transmit emotions (almost always around grief and misery) and for its musicality, which was reflected in a unique quality to sing, one could say, anticipating the rhythm ”. Holiday is presented in the collection with Lady Sings the Blues.
Also on the list are Charlie Parker, Diana Krall, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan or João Gilberto and Stan Getz with “the album that made Brazilian music universal and eternal,” in the words of Fernando Neira: Getz/Gilberto. “It is one of the most widespread jazz works in the history of this genre, most of the time both admired and restricted in the eyes of the general public. It accredits the rare circumstance that it satisfies both the purist and the eclectic public, ”says the journalist.