Ella Fitzgerald, a true american legend. superb jazz singer, unsurpassed vocal style. Ella was one of the great vocal talents of the century. Ella Fitzgerald was born into very humble circumstances but overcame real poverty and hardship to make it through talent and sheer hard work. ella fitzgerald a genuine american treasure. On June 12, 1935 Ella Fitzgerald made her first recordings with Chick Webb's powerful big band, beginning with "I'll Chase the Blues Away." It was a suggestive choice to launch one of the most illustrious careers in American music. She spent a career chasing the blues away. (In fact, one of her least attractive albums is the misconceived These are the Blues from 1963.) She would become known for her ability to infuse joy into the most trivial lyrics, to sound uplifting where Billie Holiday would be dramatic and intense. Holiday said she was influenced by Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Fitzgerald spoke of Armstrong as well, but among women she looked to the lively upbeat work of Connee Boswell and the Boswell Sisters, three white women from New Orleans who were recording in the early thirties.
Ella Fitzgerald had a distinctive voice: flexible, shaded, bright but with a gritty edge. She brought to jazz singing the glawing bounce of her rhythm and tbe infectious good cheer of a voice that sounded buoyantly girlish in its natural range. Above that range she strained, but her agility and perfect pitch made the strain as expressive as a saxophonist's growl. She managed to sound endearing even when reaching for a low note, as in her version of "This Time the Dream's On Me" from the Johnny Mercer Songbook of 1964. With her ability to improvise, her uncanny swing, "rhythm and romance", as one of her early recordings has it, have been the staples of her career. But on "My Last Affair" from November 1936, recorded with members of the Chick Webb band, she sounds unaffected by the supposed tragedy that she is narrating. She uses blues inflections as a device, which doesn't interfere with the general impression of a singer at odds with her material. That may be why her biggest hits with Webb were tunes like the light-hearted novelty "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," from 1938. Still a teenager, she sounds more comfortable with a song about a lost basket than with one about a lost lover. What is particularly remarkable about this performance is her blithely swinging approach to the last choruses, in which she trades phrases with the band, improvising with the ingratiating assurance of an old pro.
When Chick Webb died the next year, Ella began fronting the band, which
foundered in the middle of the war. Ella Fitzgerald found the rhythms of bebop
uplifting. She started to scat, to improvise wordlessly, using her own
invented language of nonsense syllables. One can hear the beginning of
this develop in numbers she made during the war, such as the remarkably
poised "Cow Cow Boogie," a country-western boogie-woogie number she recorded in 1943 with the lnk Spots, a popular black vocal group. In her most cheerful manner, Ella Fitzgerald scats briefly. She sounds like she's singing to herself, behind the recitation of Orville "Hoppy" Jones. Bebop brought scatting to the fore. Fitzgerald internalised some of the harmonic intricacies of bop and thrilled in its rhythms, as can be heard in her December 1947 "How High the Moon," recorded with the band she co-led with bassist Ray Brown. With its logical changes, based on the circle of fifths, "How High the Moon" became the foundation of hundreds of bop performances. Ella Fitzgerald sings the first chorus almost straight, she can't resist one baroque decoration, and then begins to improvise with her own lyrics. On the third chorus, she's scatting with the accuracy and drive that distinguishes her work, singing hornlike lines that have led some critics to define jazz singing as any that sounds like a jazz instrumental. (In a sense, jazz singing does always sound instrumental. The instrument is the voice.)
On Gershwin's "Oh, Lady Be Good" from March 1947, her wit is abundant too. After the first chorus, where she sings the song basically as written but fast, she begins her scat solo with a quotation from a march. (It's the "National Emblem March" by Bagley.) The second phrase takes a little idea and makes a sequence out of it, moving down each time. The second A section of this AABA choms begins like Rossini's "William Tell Overture," then moves into more sequences and a bebop phrase ending. The bridge begins with hard riffing, and ends with the most complicated sequence of all, a three-note idea that she keeps changing harmonically. The chorus ends with a phrase that sounds like it's from "The Three Stooges".
Ella Fitzgerald's career took off. Her style, which moved between bop and swing, meant that she could sing with almost anybody, and she improvised with the best. She had been touring with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic since 1948. In 1956, Granz signed her to his Verve label, and she is at her peak on a number of live recordings made over the next ten years, including a hair-raising uptempo "Oh, Lady Be Good" from Los Angeles (not Chicago, as sometimes listed) in 1957. She also began a celebrated series of recordings, the so-called "Songbooks," each dedicated to a single composer or lyricist. On these recordings, Fitzgerald proves herself a storyteller, beginning "Oh, Lady Be Good" this time with the rarely heard verse that tells a "tale of woe." On the Gershwin Songbook (1959), Fitzgerald sings this song convincingly as a ballad, her gentle plea for pity in the bridge is even touching. She infuses new life into "Over the Rainbow" and introduces to jazz fans, many less well known classics of American song. She's mostly respectful of the lyrics and melodies, but on the Duke Ellington SongBook (1957), where she was accompanied at times by the Ellington orchestra, she was able to let loose. She scats through "Rockin' in Rhythm" with the bubbling, joyous sound of her best live perfomances. The songbooks feature large orchestras, but occasionally Fitzgerald sang in more intimate contexts. For the soundtrack of a now obscure movie, Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960), she sang beautifully, accompanied only by pianist Paul Smith. She treats songs such as the blues "Black Coffee", even "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", as late-night meditations. Then there's the beautifully contained "In My Solitude" from the Duke Ellington Song Book in which she's accompanied only by guitarist Barney Kessel.
Ella Fitzgerald must have liked that sound and feeling. Some of her best recordings of the seventies were made with guitarist Joe Pass for Pablo Records. These include the 1973 "You're Blase" and the 1976 remake of "Solitude." But there were signs of trouble even on these recordings: the slight wobble in her vibrato in the verse of "You're Blase." In the eighties, plagued by ill health, Ella Fitzgerald lost most of the bloom of her voice, but yet she could still improvise with aplomb.
In 1934, an awkward sixteen-year-old girl made her singing debut at the the Harlem Apollo Theatre amateur night in New York City. She intended to dance, but she lost her nerve when she got on stage. "The man said, 'do something while you're out there, 'the singer later recalled. "So I tried to sing 'Object of My Affection' and 'Judy,' and I won first prize." She drew the attention of the bandleader Chick Webb. After personally coaching the shy performer, Webb introduced her at the Savoy Theatre one evening as his orchestra's singer *. That evening marked the beginning of Ella Fitzgerald's singing career. One of the great compliments paid to Ella was from Ira Gershwin who said 'I didn't realise our songs were so good until Ella sang them'.
Ella Fitzgerald's life was marked both by extreme highs and lows. Born in Newport News, Virginia in 1917 and orphaned at the age of 15, Ella was placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale, one of the few orphanages at the time that accepted Afro-American children. From there, she was transferred to the New York State Training School for Girls, a reformatory at which State investigations later revealed wide-spread physical abuse. Having escaped from the reformatory, Ella was literally living in the streets of Harlem when she was discovered by Webb. She was married twice, first at the age of 24 to a shady character by the name of Benjamin Kornegay, and then again to bass player Ray Brown at the age of 30. Both marriages ended in divorce. A diabetic for many years, the disease compromised her vision as well as her circulatory system before taking her life. In 1992, both of her legs were amputated below the knee due to diabetes related circulatory problems. As an artist, however, Ella achieved legendary success in a career that spanned six decades, yielded recordings numbering into the thousands, and earned the singer countless awards including a Kennedy Center Award for her contributions to the performing arts, honorary doctorate degrees from Dartmouth and Yale, and thirteen Grammy Awards.
Despite never having received formal vocal training, Ella's technique and range rivalled that of the conservatory trained singer. Throughout her three-octave vocal range, Ella's voice remained uniform in its clarity and child-like timbre. Her diction was unfailingly crisp, and her intonation was absolutely flawless. Coupled with this textbook-perfect technique, Ella had an improvisational talent on par with that of the best jazz instrumentalists. Her spontaneous, often pyrotechnic scat vocalisations, in fact, were a trademark of her style.
In looking back upon Ella Fitzgerald's rich catalogue of recordings, the name of Norman Granz consistently emerges in conjunction with that of Ella's. Ella met the record producer and founder of both the Verve and Pablo jazz labels in 1949, after which the two developed a working relationship which lasted forty years. Under the direction of Norman Granz, Ella recorded her legendary "songbook" albums — a series of albums each devoted to the songs of a particular American composer. Between the years of 1956 and 1964, Ella recorded songbook albums featuring the music of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. Collectively, these are one of Ella's crowning achievements. Granz also produced Ella's phenomenal collaborations with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, respectively entitled "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "Ella at Duke's Place." All of these recordings are on the Verve label, and are available on CD. After founding the Pablo label, Granz recorded the four Ella Fitzgerald/Joe Pass duet albums, each of which are deservedly considered jazz classics.
As amazing as Ella Fitzgerald's musical talents were, equally amazing was the fact that she managed not to fall through the cracks of the segregated child welfare system of the 1930's. A victim of poverty and abuse, Ella was able to transcend circumstance and develop into one of the greatest singers that America produced. Ella died on June 15th of complications associated with diabetes. She was 79 years old. Despite suffering poor health Ella remained an active performer until 1992.