July 26, 2021

Dance the voice of Ella Fitzgerald

Almost 25 years after his death, Ella Fitzgerald, the “First Lady of the Song”, tells today, at the same time, with a documentary about her life: Just One Of Those Things; an unreleased live album: The Lost Berlin Tapes, and a new compilation of Ella’s collaborations with pianists: The Complete Pianos Duets. There are even new-old singles available, from the 60s, alongside Duke Ellington on the famous Ed Sullivan show (fingers crossed for their famous and only collaboration with Sammy Davis to be released soon, also from the TV show Jr., an impeccable improvisation duet, which with mediocre quality can be seen on YouTube).

In addition to a very active account on IG, firstladyofsong, attached to his official website www.ellafitzgerald.com and even a Barbie doll in his tribute, everything indicates that the legacy of Fitzgerald, the swing diva, now with merchandising included, enjoys the same care, commercial vision and management of male figures like Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan, with their clothing lines or whiskey brands.

Available at ellafitzgeraldmovie.com, at Just One Of Those Things​, the documentary about his life Directed by Leslie Woodhead, artists such as Tony Bennett, Jamie Cullum, Johnny Mathis, Smokey Robinson and violinist Itzhak Perlman participate. If there is any doubt that Ella is one of the most inescapable performers of the 20th century, perhaps the best proof is that the documentary is largely conducted by Norma Miller, a professional dancer and Ella’s tour partner who is 100 years old. If jazz is the soundtrack of the last century, it is also that soundtrack that stamped, like the sides of a vinyl record, episodes of American life: the revival of black culture in Harlem, the Great Depression, the New Deal, the Swing, the postwar period. The chapters of the history of jazz are shuffled with those of the United States until they become unrecognizable between social and cultural processes. The documentary traces that arc, racial, political and individual, from the beginning of Ella with the Chick Webb orchestra, one of the Big Bands with more swing of the 30s. The images of Ella and Webb (who measured little more than a meter due to a malformation) are like those of a merciful giant in her worker boots and simple dresses with a happy child.

Fitzgerald, like Sinatra, Bennett, or Perry Como, and the entire generation of crooners Italian-Americans (especially men), embodied the next step in the evolution of music: from the fame of the great bands, to the first idols, more important than their orchestras. Proof of this, as the film explains, is the song “A Tistek A Tasket”, a children’s song that Ella reinvents in such a way to transform it into a jazz standard and that allowed her to become a national star. According to the documentary, the “yellow basket” that the protagonist of the song is looking for is like Dorothy’s ruby ​​red shoes: a magical world of Oz, which opened the doors to future singers, such as Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan or Dinah Washington.

Woman, black and poor

In an age when the role of female singers was to sing, sit and be quiet, She went on to conduct her own orchestra, in which all the characteristics of his expression emerge: humor, impeccable voice, humanity. However, Ella did not fit the glamorous and sexy standards of popularity of the time: She was a woman, she was black, she was plump. She weighed 100 kilos and the press called her “the plump chanteuse” (the chubby singer). She sang, moved, perspired. The second song of her concerts is seen sweating. “I know I’m not a glamorous girl,” says Ella, “and it’s not easy for me to stand up in front of a crowd of people. It used to bother me a lot, but now I’ve realized that God gave me this talent to use, so I just stand there and sing. ” What was perhaps not glamorous, it surpassed it excessively in magnetism.

But also She was one of the very few artists from the pre-bebop generation who embraced that movement, the most revolutionary and disruptive in jazz.. As Dizzy Gillespie’s testimony in the film collects, “I can only say one thing about Ella: wow !!!”. “Never, no one – declares the singer Laura Mvula – did solo with her voice like the best trumpeters or saxophonists did: She improvised in a humanly impossible way.” The harmonic vocabulary of bebop had its origins in Ella’s extraordinary vocal improvisation and in turn Ella helped spread that movement.

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong.

The documentary also adds live material from his time interpreting the Great American Songbook of authors such as Cole Porter or George Gerwshin and his stage of global recognition with the Verve label, in what was one of the great reincarnations of the swing diva: She like the great balladeer of the world.

Thanks to Ella Fitzgerald’s association with producer Norman Granz of the Verve label, which made her a global superstar, Ella arrived in Berlin in 1960. From that live performance came one of the most intense albums in history, by any musical genre: Ella In Berlin: Mack The Knife. In the song that gives the album title, Ella forgets the lyrics and improvises a new, wonderful and self-conscious lyrics that she doesn’t remember. In “How High The Moon”, innovates with an impossible scat in which he quotes fragments of melodies of at least ten different songs. If it is said that postmodern aesthetics, so from this century, began with pastiches or mixtures of styles within the architecture of the last century, the same could be applied and explained within this album. Quotes, winks, tributes, intertextualities that Ella performed without a theoretical framework, singing ballads, jazz, blues, standards, children’s songs and movies in the same song: an architecture of genius.

Two years later, vhe forgot Berlin because of the popularity of that show. The recording of the show was only now found. Perfectly preserved, the tapes were found at Granz’s home. Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes, not only has an impeccable sound, but a repertoire totally different from the other album. Between the ‘merci beaucoup’ and the ‘dankeschön’ she greets with, Ella begins heavenly, with “Heaven, I’m in Heaven ” from“ Cheek To cheek ”, the other famous song that invites you to dance cheek-with -cheap. He returns to one of the hits of his youth with “Mr. Paganini “, and includes a formidable version of” Cry Me A River “, the song in which he tells his ex-lover that of” Cry all you want / you can cry a whole river if you want to / because I’ve already cried /… and I’m not going to cry anymore ”. By the end, Big Joe Turner’s “Wee Baby Blues” seems to foreshadow, a decade earlier, Robert Plant’s “Baby, baby, baby” with Led Zeppelin in “Misty Mountain Hop”.

Compilation The Complete Pianos Duets, for his part, without having anything new, collects all of Ella Fitzgerald’s collaborations with pianists, recorded for Decca, Verve and Pablo Records labels. It does not include anything new, but it is an intelligent selection that rescues her first album, Ella Sings Gershwin, of solo piano and voice, as well as duets with no less than Oscar Peterson.

As the other Fitzgerald, Francis Scott, said in his writing tips: “An author should write for the young people of his generation, the critics of the next, and for all the teachers of the future.” Ella Fitzgerald will continue to light the world forever.

Jazz women

Except for the great divas and dry names in jazz (Ella, Sarah, Billie, Nina…), female figures always had much less press than men. Proof of this is how little is known and enjoyed about Lilian Hardin, Melba Liston or the psychedelic explorations of Alice Coltrane, so celebrated on albums by Paul Weller, Flying Lotus or Spiritualized.

So the proposal of Artemis is remarkable, a super-group of women who just released his debut album on Blue Note Records. But that’s not their only interest, it’s about exceptional artists: pianist and music director Renee Rosnes, clarinetist Anat Cohen, saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda, drummer Allison Miller and the hulking singer Cécile McLorin Salvant. “The international” could be called this set of jazzeras from Chile, the United States, Japan, Canada, France, Chile and Israel.

With his own compositions, the versions of “If It’s Magic”, by Stevie Wonder and the hard-bop classic “The Sidewinder” also stand out, in a symphonic interpretation full of nuances. In any case, any album that even includes half a measure of McLorin Salvant’s voice is an absolute necessity (a complete artist: it is advisable to see on YouTube the animations she made for Ella Fitzgerald’s new album, The Lost Berlin Tapes).

Like the debut of Artemis, also from 2020 is the singer’s record harvest (American and based in Austria) Dena Derose. Ode To The Road It is composed of songs by Henry Mancini and jazz standards crossed with more modern works by Miles Davis. She is accompanied by saxophonist Houston Person.

As its title suggests, it is an album like a walk on the road: sunny, with originals that do not pay homage to the Great American and with the irony of his smiling voice and the phrasing of his piano style. Just stick your head out the window of so much music, and enjoy Ode To The Road like a soft breeze.

In a less direct vein of listening, but at the same time much more curious, exceptional and contemporary, one finds the duet album by saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Kris Davis, Blood Moon. The limit between the written part of each original composition and improvisation is such that, as the site allboutjazz.com reviewed, giving it a score of 4.5 out of 5, “the unison between them arises from an apparently unbridled interaction in such a way that it maintains the listener guessing, both about what is noted, and about what is spontaneous. And even what will come later ”.

Closer to a radical jazz like Cecil Taylor or Anthony Braxton, it is shaping up to be one of the great albums of the year.

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