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Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington

"The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was arguably the finest female jazz singer of all time (although some may vote for Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday). Blessed with a beautiful voice and a wide range, Fitzgerald could outswing anyone, was a brilliant scat singer, and had near-perfect elocution; one could always understand the words she sang. The one fault was that, since she always sounded so happy to be singing, Fitzgerald did not always dig below the surface of the lyrics she interpreted and she even made a downbeat song such as "Love for Sale" sound joyous. However, when one evaluates her career on a whole, there is simply no one else in her class.

One could never guess from her singing that Ella Fitzgerald's early days were as grim as Billie Holiday's. Growing up in poverty, Fitzgerald was literally homeless for the year before she got her big break. In 1934, she appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, winning an amateur contest by singing "Judy" in the style of her idol, Connee Boswell. After a short stint with Tiny Bradshaw, Fitzgerald was brought to the attention of Chick Webb by Benny Carter (who was in the audience at the Apollo). Webb, who was not impressed by the 17-year-old's appearance, was reluctantly persuaded to let her sing with his orchestra on a one-nighter. She went over well and soon the drummer recognized her commercial potential. Starting in 1935, Fitzgerald began recording with Webb's Orchestra, and by 1937 over half of the band's selections featured her voice. "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" became a huge hit in 1938 and "Undecided" soon followed. During this era, Fitzgerald was essentially a pop/swing singer who was best on ballads while her medium-tempo performances were generally juvenile novelties. She already had a beautiful voice but did not improvise or scat much; that would develop later.

On June 16, 1939, Chick Webb died. It was decided that Fitzgerald would front the orchestra even though she had little to do with the repertoire or hiring or firing the musicians. She retained her popularity and when she broke up the band in 1941 and went solo; it was not long before her Decca recordings contained more than their share of hits. She was teamed with the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and the Delta Rhythm Boys for some best-sellers, and in 1946 began working regularly for Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. Granz became her manager although it would be nearly a decade before he could get her on his label. A major change occurred in Fitzgerald's singing around this period. She toured with Dizzy Gillespie's big band, adopted bop as part of her style, and started including exciting scat-filled romps in her set. Her recordings of "Lady Be Good," "How High the Moon," and "Flying Home" during 1945-1947 became popular and her stature as a major jazz singer rose as a result. For a time (December 10, 1947-August 28, 1953) she was married to bassist Ray Brown and used his trio as a backup group. Fitzgerald's series of duets with pianist Ellis Larkins in 1950 (a 1954 encore with Larkins was a successful follow-up) found her interpreting George Gershwin songs, predating her upcoming Songbooks series.

After appearing in the film Pete Kelly's Blues in 1955, Fitzgerald signed with Norman Granz's Verve label and over the next few years she would record extensive Songbooks of the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, and Johnny Mercer. Although (with the exception of the Ellington sets) those were not her most jazz-oriented projects (Fitzgerald stuck mostly to the melody and was generally accompanied by string orchestras), the prestigious projects did a great deal to uplift her stature. At the peak of her powers around 1960, Fitzgerald's hilarious live version of "Mack the Knife" (in which she forgot the words and made up her own) from Ella in Berlin is a classic and virtually all of her Verve recordings are worth getting.

Fitzgerald's Capitol and Reprise recordings of 1967-1970 are not on the same level as she attempted to "update" her singing by including pop songs such as "Sunny" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," sounding quite silly in the process. But Fitzgerald's later years were saved by Norman Granz's decision to form a new label, Pablo. Starting with a Santa Monica Civic concert in 1972 that is climaxed by Fitzgerald's incredible version of "C Jam Blues" (in which she trades off with and "battles" five classic jazzmen), Fitzgerald was showcased in jazz settings throughout the 1970s with the likes of Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, and Joe Pass, among others. Her voice began to fade during this era and by the 1980s her decline due to age was quite noticeable. Troubles with her eyes and heart knocked her out of action for periods of time, although her increasingly rare appearances found Fitzgerald still retaining her sense of swing and joyful style. By 1994, Ella Fitzgerald was in retirement and she passed away two years later, but she remains a household name and scores of her recordings are easily available on CD. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Comments

lisandramoor e
WOW. One of the best songs I've heard in a while. What genius voices. Satisfying rhythm.
louisesaber
J
louisesaber
J
Her music was not always happy sounding. Clear and bright yes, but listen to her sing Angel Eyes, Lush Life, or Here Comes That Rainy Day. So much depth.
Ella & the Duke - doesn't get any better folks.
Ella was as great a singer as there ever was in Jazz or any other style. Only a few in her league. An argument could be made for best ever too.
What a fun song
she brought back a lot of songs from the 20's to the 60's.
I first saw Ella sing at the Detroit Jazz Festival in the 80's at ford auditorium. She was incredible singing her jazz hits and I was hooked from the moment I heard her sing. It was a 3 piece band, Joe Pass on guitar and the drummer (forgot his name). She hit the high notes, scating and just stood there and sang her great hits and blue me away. I had to go back stage to meet her and even though her eye were going bad wearing coke bottle glasses she gave me a compliment on my attire and I prai
I love Ella, but I prefer to listen to Sarah if given a choice. To my ears, Ella has incredible technique & range, but Sassy imbues her songs with more pure feeling, & I prefer her voice for it's unique timbre & incredible vibrato. Sarah's sound is more sophisticate d , smokey, richer & deeper, whereas Ella has more of an innocent little girl sound.
After many years of hearing Satin Doll instrumental l y , I am hearing the lyrics for the first time and Ella is singing it. Oh...my...go o d n e s s . . .
Magic!
mooyoo.77
1ST,2ND,3RD, O N & O N LADY OF SONG PERIOD
in order, ELLA- then everyone else!
About 30+ years ago, I saw Ella perform with Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, Ed Thigpen, Neils Henning-Orst e d - P e t e r s o n at the Opera House, Seattle, WA. Ella sang flawlessly. I will never forget this concert
hprichard23
ella and louis. how sweet it is. can't get enough
glory2007
More of Ella, Billie and Sarah, These great artists get my vote, It would be a shame to allow these artists to be forgotten. Keep 'em coming.
As it stands, this article gets a B-. In order to get an A, you're going to have to redo it so it includes the most remarkable work of her career, i.e., her collaboratio n with Louis Armstrong. And reference such tunes as, oh, let's say, Tenderly, the best cover of the song, ever.
Ella gets my vote! Love Sarah and Billie, but Ella has such an all-around beautiful voice, wonderful phrasing, and sang great songs!
phyllis9305
No mention of her great collaboratio n s with Louis Armstrong.
for some odd reason cannot find a remix by Ella tiltled Have you seen him lately
Love, Love, Love her!! I would have loved to be in her time- love the attitude, dress, music (Minus the Jim Crow and WWII though...)
doragarcia80 5
the best
wilbudge
Wow! Always love Ella and the band. Makes me want to start a group like that. So fine.....
ahhh! hate my job, but the music is calming!
How could you love music and not appreciate a near perfect voice. She set the standard for what a Jazz Vocalist should sing like.
Just love her voice; makes me want to sing right along, but would mess up her wonderful delivery.
This lady is just the best thing that happened to JAZZ music someone should wake our youth up
Ella were a household name like a member of the family we love so dearly.
she had it all..Betty Boop...black and white disappeared. . . t o p class
mari87
one of the best vocalists of all time singing one of the best songs of all time
just love to hear her aing noah
Super Song... and GLORIOUS, FABULOUS ELLA.
Every time Ella sings a song it becomes hers.She is the best.
im 27 now and i started listen to Ella in high school around 15...and nobody in my age bracket got her.....voca l l y she was so creative ...and flexible...a n d fun...what's not to get? at that age she was one of my guilty pleasures... n o w its no guilt at all.
She is the best
No one did it or does it better!
Absoluting one of the greatest. Wonderful evening with her at the Coconut Grove. One of my treasures
if you ever want to set a mood of class,glamou r , a n d champagne. Ella is the voice to have in the background.

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