By Don Heckman
When singer/songwriter Ella Leya sent me the link for her single, “I’m In Love” and I saw the cover picture of her wearing a big Russian fur hat, I immediately recalled some old photos of Janis Joplin and Paul Simon wearing similar headgear. Of course, Ella brings a lot more authenticity to the wearing of this particular kind of chapeau, since she was born in Baku, Azerbaijan when that Caucasian nation on the Black Sea was still one of the Republics of the Soviet Union. In addition to which, she barely knew who either Joplin or Simon were while she was growing up, when she was far more fascinated by the individual stylings of Billie Holiday and Liza Minelli.
“I’m In Love,” however, owes a lot more to Peggy Lee, Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra and the Swing era than it does to any of the luminaries mentioned above. And it had an intriguing genesis.
“I was visiting my dear friend — music supervisor Frankie Pine,” explains Ella. “She was working on a film and looking for a Peggy Lee-style song for the only happy scene in an otherwise pretty dark picture. I’m Russian, and, to be honest, I had no idea who Peggy Lee was. But I told Frankie, ‘No problem. I can write you a song in that style.”
At the time, Ella was about to leave on a trip to Europe, so she had little opportunity to do more than read about Peggy Lee and listen to several of her songs. But inspiration can strike in unpredictable ways.
“I was having my morning coffee and croissant at the Cafe De Flore in Saint-Germain-des-Pres,” she recalls. “A gorgeous waiter with a touch of typically Parisian disdain was doing his dance around me. I asked for a paper napkin and within the next five minutes had the lyrics down and the melody in my head. But I was so worried about forgetting it, I found a studio right away and recorded a very, very poor demo, with some accidental pianist from Lebanon. I felt quite embarrassed sending the demo to Frankie and was pleasantly very surprised when she responded. ‘It’s a pretty bad demo,’ she said, ‘but the song is great. Go ahead and record it’.”
Ella did exactly that and Pine quickly placed “I’m in Love” in French director Yann Samuell’s film, My Sassy Girl and in the ABC-TV television series, Samantha Who?.
As soon as I heard the combination of Ella’s engaging vocal — with her slightly exotic Russian accent — the jaunty, Swing-style rhythm, the catchy melody and sweetly universal love song lyrics, the Phil Woods-like alto saxophone solo from Wayne Wayne, I knew it was the kind of song I’d been looking for to begin a new platform at the International Review of Music.
Here’s the itunes link to check out “I’m In Love”. It can also be downloaded as an MP-3, along with other songs by Ella at Amazon MP-3 Downloads Ella Leya. Her two CDs — Russian Romance and Queen of Night — are also available from Amazon.
This new platform, “Song of the Month” at the International Review of Music, will be designed to draw attention to songs with qualities that reach beyond current trends, genres and styles and stand on their own, as uniquely memorable as the classics in the Great American Songbook. The requirements for selected songs are simply that they have a timeless quality, simultaneously old and new, capable of being sung or played by almost anyone whose interests spring from a musical perspective. Candidates and submissions can be sent – by MP-3 – to Don Heckman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see more Songs of the Month click here.