National Catholic Register


Scat Free

BY Simcha Fisher

| Posted 4/26/13 at 9:09 AM


Yesterday was the birthday of the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald.  I Googled "queen of jazz" to see if that's really how she's known; but I already knew that that's what she was.  My sister and I grew up wearing grooves in our LPs of Ella Fitzgerald singing the Gershwin Songbook. Such earthy elegance -- such a stunning combination of warmth and poise, passion and control.




I once told a jazz-savvy guy how much I loved Ella Fitzgerald, except for the songs with scat singing.  He laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  Somewhat offended, I asked why.  It turns out that Ella Fitzgerald is especially known for her scatting -- that she's also, in fact, known as "Queen of Scat." 



He said that enjoying Ella Fitzgerald except for her scatting is like enjoying Rembrandt except for his painting.

Well, too bad!  I don't like it.  I recognize that she's great at it, and she comes closer than anyone else  to making scat sound tolerable.  I just don't like it.  I actually tried to force myself to like scat, when I had a girl crush on my high school jazz choir director, who was a wannabe jazz singer.  I even tried singing scat (and sounded very much like a nice Catholic girl from New Hampshire trying to sing scat).  I tried and I tried, but it turns out that I just don't like it.

I do, however, like this:




But I came very close to making myself believe that I wasn't actually enjoying the True Ella Fitzgerald Experience because I didn't like scat.  In the kind of pseudo-noble confusion that only a pretentious teenager can suffer, I thought I ought to give up listening to jazz altogether, if I wasn't going to be able to appreciate (or at least tough out) the really essential parts of it.

This, as you no doubt realize, is baloney of the purest kind.  Music is music, and it's there to delight us in one way or another.  It's a meritorious thing to educate our senses, so that we can partake more fully of the things that don't immediately leap out and grab our interest.  But there is nothing more pathetic than someone who pretends to enjoy something he doesn't, just because he thinks he should.

For many people, this kind of self-deception is no real temptation.  For goodness sake, we have adult citizens sloshing around Walmart wearing Betty Boop pajama bottoms, and tattooed -- tattooed, forever! -- with the Tasmanian Devil.  Clearly, they are not falling prey to any kind of cultural pretensions (although maybe they're just pretending to like Betty Boop to gain the acceptance of their peers . . . ?  Nah).

But for many others, turning their backs on their unique desires and tastes is a warning sign that something is terribly wrong.  In C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, the disastrously foolish Mark Studdock nearly loses his soul, and he comes to that point very quickly-- and it all begins with an unwillingness to assert his own tastes, because he's afraid they're not the correct tastes.  He begins by being willing to put aside who he really is, and before he knows it, he's very nearly willing to put aside the fact that's he's human.  I think I remember Lewis bringing up a similar idea in The Screwtape Letters, when the demon remarks that he once lost a soul merely because the fellow wasn't willing to give up, even in front of his toney friends, his beloved mug of hot cocoa.  It's Friday, someone look it up for me.

It's important for your own peace of mind to be aesthetically honest; and it's important for the culture at large.  If more people were willing to say, "I just don't like this" to things which may or may not have any artistic or aesthetic merit, then it would be a lot easier to say "Nobody should like this" to things that clearly have no artistic or aesthetic merit, only everyone's afraid of looking like the dumbbell who doesn't get it.

You hear that, Tilda Swinton?  Wake up!  I'm putting my foot down.

Heck, I don't have a grand, important message here, and I don't want to tie a pretty moral blogger bow on this post if it doesn't deserve one.  All I'm saying is . . .. if there's some cultural or aesthetic phenomenon that all the critics are making a fuss about, then go ahead and try it.  FIgure out what the fuss is about. Put your active little brain to work on it.  But if you gave it a fair shot and you still keep coming up with nothing, then just . . . let it go.  Life's too short to pretend you like scat.