August 6, 2021

A prodigy named Ella Fitzgerald | Culture

It was bad luck, I guess. During a season, I found myself reading several books where the protagonist cured his loneliness by listening to a Billie Holiday album. It was easy to understand that, in those novels, generally devoid of other musical references, that detail came to inform us that their hero was a person of exquisite sensitivity (like their author?).

I incorporated it into my Early Warning System: I continued with the book but taking precautions and, many times, I ended up abandoning its reading. For the record, I adore Lady Day. However, it amazed me that the esthete in question seemed to limit his knowledge of vocal jazz to Billie, as if she were more of a Symbol than an Artist. It’s not expected to reflect genre canon but, heck, ignore the Ella Fitzgerald Problem.

You see: She had an instrument vastly superior to Billie’s. A voice that also handled majestically, with its athletic mastery of scat and his art to quote other songs. As for her work, there is no possible comparison: Billie recorded spasmodically and not always in the best conditions, while Ella did it systematically, contributing decisively to the enthronement of the standards with its collection of Songbooks, volumes dedicated to each outstanding composer. The breadth, the variety of the discography is unmatched by that of any other vocalist of the 20th century.

The opposition alleges that She disparaged the lyrics, did not contribute enough feeling. Lie, I must say. She renounced histrionics and did not wink for the public to connect the message of the song with what was known about the singer’s biography.

Reluctant to talk about herself, Ella was a mystery in life and remained so after her death in 1996. The bibliography on her is scarce and only now has a documentary about her, Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things, been released. Obligatory vision, even if it is a conventional job, weighed down by -ay- the disappearance of the titans with whom he worked.

We already knew that, unlike them, he did not try alcohol or drugs, but surely he explained that moderation to some of his contemporaries. The same with her emotions: she was briefly married to double bass player Ray Brown; other relationships are unknown. It might just be about surviving: his early years were even tougher than Billie Holiday’s, with stages in which he had to sleep on the street. Her Cinderella moment occurred at one of the New York Apollo Theater fan nights. Even that founding myth is shrouded in doubt: it is assumed that she wanted to present herself as a dancer but, at the last moment, she decided to sing and won the applause of spectators who were known to be cruel.

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. The actress learned to sing with Ella’s records.GETTY IMAGES

His career is exemplary. He dared to explore the be bop and tried all kinds of music: gospel, blues, calypso, bossa nova, country, even soul and pop. His discography is overwhelming: he recorded with huge orchestras but also alone with the pianist Oscar Peterson or the guitarist Joe Pass. Someone will try to haggle it on the merits, speaking of the backing of the best arrangers available. True, but dozens of live shows have also come out. For the tours, She chose songs, sequence and accompanists. Apparently, he never failed in intonation, time signature, improvisation ability. A prodigy.