70. Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz singer from Newport News, Virginia. She had a tough childhood; her parents never married. She moved to Yonkers, New York with her mother and stepfather when she was about five years old. Her mother died of a heart attack when she was fifteen. In the aftermath, she left home and school when her stepfather became abusive; over the next couple of years, Ella spent time in reform school, and at times was homeless. As a child she liked dancing more than singing, but in 1934 she won a weekly amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. By early 1935, she auditioned for a spot in Chick Webb’s orchestra, which started a lifelong professional singing career.

Ella Fitzgerald is best known for her work with Norman Granz’s Verve Records, and their interpretations of early 20th century pop standards. She is also considered a master of scat singing, a non-verbal style of vocal improvisation.

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Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996), singer

A Few Notable Collaborators:

Louis Armstrong (1901-1971), trumpet, vocals, bandleader
William “Chick” Webb (1905-1939), drums, bandleader
Bill Kenny (1914-1978), singer
Norman Granz (1918-2001), record producer and entrepeneur

A Notable Singing Influence:

Connee Boswell (1907-1976), singer

Commentary

Ella Fitzgerald’s reputation earns her a spot in the countdown. She was a regular guest on national variety shows in the sixties and seventies, a charter member of mainstream jazz culture as presented by mass media. Perhaps Ella’s crossover appeal can be attributed to idolizing Connee Boswell, a white woman from Louisiana. She sings without a discernible dialect, and is renowned for her near-perfect pitch and elocution. Though her prolific career is praised and discussed at length in music review books, she elicits slightly muted enthusiasm from the critics, who tend to prefer her contemporaries Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. Fitzgerald tended to infuse all songs with brightness, whether the subject matter called for it. That criticism may reflect the darker nature of the born critic, rather than Ella’s interpretation.

Ella was notoriously shy. As a teenager, she was tall and self-conscious about her appearance. Her voice in those early recordings has a child-like quality I find compelling. She loved to sing, treated her talent as a gift, and was most comfortable in public performing, or with close, trusted friends. She performed throughout her life, until health problems limited her travels. One of the all-time greats, and the recipient of many awards and honorary musical degrees, Ella Fitzgerald passed away at her home in 1996, surrounded by her closest family.

“I don’t want to say the wrong thing, which I always do,” she said. “I think I do better when I sing.”

— Ella Fitzgerald¹

“I guess what everyone wants more than anything else is to be loved. And to know that you loved me for my singing is too much for me. Forgive me if I don’t have all the words. Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.”

— Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald Song Notes:

1. My Ella Fitzgerald collection has evolved considerably. My selections often depend on other interpretations of Tin Pan Alley songs. Ella has an enormous catalog to choose from, over 200 albums. Start with the songbook interpretations from the fifties, plus the collaborations with Louis Armstrong.

2. Based on my research, a good list of CDs to start with is:

The Cole Porter Songbook
The George & Ira Gershwin Songbook
Pure Ella
Ella Swings Brightly With Nelson

3. “Mack The Knife (Live)” is a famous live performance from Berlin in 1960, and can be found on Ken Burns’s Jazz: Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella Fitzgerald Songs:

Love Is Here To Stay, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong ✭✭✭
The Nearness Of You, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong ✭✭✭

Azure, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Bing Crosby & Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Love Is Here To Stay, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Midnight Sun, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Imagination, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Baby Won’t You Please Come Home?, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
I Get A Kick Out Of You, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
The Man I Love, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Mack The Knife (Live), Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
I’ve Got The World On A String, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
Someone To Watch Over Me, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
I Won’t Dance, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong ✭✭
A Fine Romance, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong ✭✭
Undecided, Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb & His Orchestra ✭✭
A-Tisket, A-Tasket, Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb & His Orchestra ✭✭
But Not For Me, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭

The Lady Is A Tramp, Ella Fitzgerald
When I Get Low I Get High, Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb & His Orchestra
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Don’t Be That Way, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
You’re Blasé, Stan Getz & Ella Fitzgerald
Flying Home (Take B), Ella Fitzgerald with Vic Schoen & His Orchestra

Related Songs:

Love Is Here To Stay, Lennie Niehaus ✭✭

The Nearness Of You, Bill Charlap ✭✭

Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, Art Pepper ✭✭

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra

Midnight Sun, Lionel Hampton & Quincy Jones

Baby Won’t You Please Come Home?, Will Bill Davison

I Get A Kick Out Of You, Dinah Washington
I Get A Kick Out Of You, Frank Sinatra ✭✭✭✭

The Man I Love, Coleman Hawkins
The Man I Love, Edmond Hall ✭✭
The Man I Love, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
The Man I Love, Wardell Gray Quartet ✭✭

Mack The Knife, Bobby Darin ✭✭✭
Mack The Knife, Louis Armstrong ✭✭

I’ve Got The World On A String, Frank Sinatra ✭✭
I’ve Got The World On A String, Louis Armstrong ✭✭

Someone To Watch Over Me, Blossom Dearie ✭✭
Someone To Watch Over Me, Frank Sinatra ✭✭
Someone To Watch Over Me, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭

Undecided, John Kirby ✭✭’

The Lady Is A Tramp, Frank Sinatra ✭✭

They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Frank Sinatra ✭✭
They Can’t Take That Away From Me (Take 1), Billie Holiday ✭✭✭

Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Ozzie Nelson & His Orchestra ✭✭
Dream A Little Dream Of Me, The Mamas & The Papas ✭✭

Don’t Be That Way, Chick Webb & His Orchestra ✭✭✭
Don’t Be That Way, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra ✭✭
Don’t Be That Way, Teddy Wilson Sextet ✭✭
Don’t Be That Way, Lionel Hampton ✭✭

Flying Home, Lionel Hampton ✭✭✭✭
Flying Home, Benny Goodman Sextet ✭✭

¹ Quote from “Ella Fitzgerald Dies at Age 78”, by Jim Moret, CNN News, dated June 15, 1996

3 thoughts on “70. Ella Fitzgerald

  1. Cheryl March 7, 2010 / 6:48 AM

    Regarding “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” – my emotional favorite version of this song is sung by Danny DeVito in the movie “Living Out Loud”. While Danny is far from vocally impressive, I find his version of this song quite sweet and sincere. Ella’s stuff tends towards vocal gymnastics…which I can only enjoy in limited amounts…just this lady’s opinion.

  2. Richard Supan March 9, 2010 / 11:08 PM

    Clearly Ella has a great singing voice. However, no one has ever given me a reasonable explanation why scatting was ever done or its origin. I understand the be-bop jazz period, was it related to that? To a person of the later 20th century like myself it sounds like someone forgot her lines to the song, 🙂

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