Ella Fitzgerald - vocals; Tommy Flanagan - piano; Keeter Betts - bass; Jimmie Smith - drums
One of the regal singers in the history of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald was a virtuosic improviser as well as a remarkable ballad interpreter. Pure tone, cleardiction, and an engaging, girlish voice were the hallmarks of her straightforward singing style early on, along with her incredible three-octave range. Inlater years, Ella would develop her improvisational skills to such a degree that she was regarded by male musicians as "one of the cats," capable of swingingas forcefully and spontaneously as any soloist in the band. At this Carnegie Hall concert, she is accompanied by pianist and musical director Tommy Flanagan,bassist Keeter Betts and drummer Jimmie Smith (Flanagan's trio actually kicked this June 24th evening off with an opening set).
At age 61, Fitzgerald sounds in fine voice here (revealing a tad more vibrato than in her earlier days) as she stretches her glorious instrument, effortlesslyswinging her way through such classics from the Great American Songbook as "Too Close for Comfort," Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll," Fats Waller's "Ain'tMisbehavin'" (which segues neatly to Fats' "Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now") and "I Cried for You" (a Tin Pan Alley tune popularized in the jazz world by BillieHoliday). Along the way she takes great liberties on these familiar songs with her elastic phrasing and rhythmic ingenuity while scatting freely whenever thefeeling hits. She also demonstrates her inimitable way with ballads on a compelling reading of the haunting "Angel Eyes," a romantic rendition of ColePorter's "Dream Dancing" (title track of her Pablo album at the time) and her mellow interpretation of "That's My Desire." Ella and her fellas also turn in analluring interpretation of Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better," (theme from the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me) and a frisky, scat-fueledinterpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba." A show-stopping slow blues rendition of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" has Fitzgerald testifying insanctified fashion. She follows with two well-known anthems: "Stompin' at the Savoy" (a staple of the '30s Swing era) and "How High the Moon" (a staple of the'40s bebop era). Ella imbues both tunes with generous doses of her fabulous scatting technique. And she encores with an effervescent reading of the KurtWeill-Bertolt Brecht tune "Mack the Knife," to the delight of this Carnegie Hall audience. Her freewheeling scatting on this closer is joyous and natural andfull of off-the-cuff musical quotes (everything from snippets of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to Benny Goodman's "Seven Come Eleven" to Sammy Davis Jr.'s"Here Comes the Judge" from Laugh-In). And she ends with a raspy-voiced imitation of Louis Armstrong saying, "Ohhhh, yeah! Thank ya, folks. Thank you,god bless." Truly, there is only one Ella.
The celebrated "First Lady of Song" was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. She got her big break at the age of 17, winning an amateur talentshow at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Jazz saxophonist Benny Carter, who happened to be in the audience at the Apollo that evening of November 21, 1934, laterbrought Ella to the attention of drummer-bandleader Chick Webb, who hired her as the female singer for his popular orchestra, a mainstay at the SavoyBallroom. She started out sharing vocal duties with Taft Jordan and Louis Jordan before becoming the featured singer with the band. In 1936, the Chick WebbOrchestra scored hits with Fitzgerald on "Sing Me a Swing Song" and "You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)." But it was the catchy 1938 ditty, "A-TisketA-Tasket," that made Ella a household name. Following Webb's death in June, 1939, she took over the band at age 22, renaming it Ella Fitzgerald and Her FamousOrchestra. She remained its leader for two years before signing as a solo artist in late 1941 with Decca Records.
By 1945, Fitzgerald began to demonstrate a freer, more mature sense of phrasing while alluding to the remarkably agile Louis Armstrong-influenced scat prowessthat would become her trademark. Beginning in 1948, the year she married jazz bassist Ray Brown, Ella became a favorite on Norman Granz's Jazz at thePhilharmonic concert tours, unleashing her formidable scatting chops in the company of such jazz stars as Dizzy Gillespie, Flip Phillips, Roy Eldridge, HerbEllis and Oscar Peterson. During this period, she scored a hit with her scat-laden version of "Lady Be Good," which would become her trademark tune throughouther career. Fitzgerald's profile rose in the 1950s through a series of popular Songbook recordings for Verve dedicated to the works of Duke Ellington, ColePorter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and George and Ira Gershwin. One of the most rewarding albums in this series is her 1958encounter with Louis Armstrong on Gershswin's Porgy & Bess.
In 1960, she scored another hit with her swinging, upbeat reading of Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife." After bouncing between several different labels throughthe decade, she emerged in the '70s on Norman Granz's Pablo label with a series of classy small group recordings featuring Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson and CountBasie. Fitzgerald fell into ill health in the 1980s and was admitted into intensive care for heart trouble in 1986, but then made a comeback in 1990,performing in a London concert with the Count Basie Orchestra. By 1994, she was in retirement, confined to a wheelchair. She died two years later on June 14,1996.
-Written by Bill Milkowski
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