Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington Orchestra – February 1967 004
Pages 4 and 5 of a souvenir brochure for a British tour of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, presented by Norman Granz and Harold Davison. Ella Fitzgerald is profiled across both pages, with a photograph of her performing.
|Catalogue Reference Number||NJA/PRO/5|
|Creator||Norman Granz, Benny Green|
|Title or Caption|
|Event Date||February 10th-12th 1967|
This text has been generated by computer from the image and may contain typographical and/or grammatical errors.
It is now nearly fourteen years since I first saw Ella Fitzgerald on a concert stage, and in that time much has happened to change the face of popular music and the tastes of those who subsidise it at the box office. To many of those present as part of this evening's audience, a list of the new successes at the time of Ella's concert with âJazz At The Philharmonicâ in March, 1953, at the Gaumont State, Kilburn, would make very little sense. Times have changed, and with them our heroes and heroines. The adolescents who worried about getting hold of a ticket for that 1953 concert are today equally worried about paying the mortgage or finding a school for their firstborn. Popular music has degenerated into a joke, and it has become a gross aesthetic crime to be more than twenty-one years old. It says much for the degree of Ella Fitzgerald's craftsmanship that she bridges these two periods, being pre-eminent in both.
It is tempting to look for deep significance when an artist lasts as long as Ella has, but the truth behind her survival is probably simple enough. Good songs, really good songs, well sung, will always draw an audience, and Ella's success in maintaining her hold on audiences probably has as much to do with Gershwin, Kern. Porter and company as it is with her remarkable range, faultless intonation and sweetness of diction. One of the most interesting things about Ella is the way in which her repertoire has changed hardly at all since she first started giving concerts in Europe. The actual names of the items change slowly
from season to season, but the general atmosphere remains the same. â Lady Be Good' might fade away but â The Loreleiâ or â The Man I Loveâ will take its place. The music she sings is still coming from the same source, and the explanation for that probably lies in the fact that she began her long and remarkable career in the best environment of all for a young singer, a jazz band. When Ella first joined the Chick Webb band back in the 1930s the dance band business was enjoying the greatest boom of its history. In those days with Webb at the Savoy Ballroom in uptown New York, big bands were plentiful. Fierce rivalry between orchestras was the order of the day, with the second best, as usual, winning the largest public support. Some idea of the ferocity of this competitive spirit has been given by Duke Ellington, who remembers Webb's first days as a bandleader at the Savoyâ
Webb was always battle-mad, and those eight guys used to take on every band that came up to play there. And most limes they did the cutting, regardless of the fact that the other bands were twice the size. But the unforgettable and lovable Webb ate up any kind of fight, and everybody in the band played like mad at all times.
Ella, who joined Webb as a teenager, benefited enormously from this background, which was virtually a finishing school in the arts of phrasing and interpretation. It is now a long time since she was with Webb, half a lifetime ago, in fact, but the experience was so thoroughly digested that it is doubtful if it will ever wear away.
When Ella later emerged as the outstanding popular singer of the post-war era, her career was no different from that of any of her rivals, until the influence began to be felt of Norman Granz, who managed her and took a hand in the selection of material for recorded albums. It was in this sphere that Ellaâs career made history, exactly how much so will only be clear after the passing of many years. Future historians of popular music will certainly recognise in the Fitzgerald ' Song Book â series the outstanding individual achievement of the long playing era, the marathon performance which established Ella as the greatest natural voice of her period and the music of Broadway as far more durable than producers and critics ever dreamed.
The Fitzgerald â Song Books â comprise a tabulated library of the Popular Song at its best, a library which defines the art
of the standard song once and for all. But for the Fitzgerald recordings, many of these beautifully constructed songs would never have been heard by modern audiences at all. One of them, Gershwin's â The Real American Folk Song ', had been unsung for nearly half a century when Ella revived it. Others, like Porter's '/ Am In Love', Berlinâs âNow It Can Be Told' and ' Youâre Laughing At Me ', Rodgers and Hartâs â Ship Without A Sail had been forgotten for many years, and it is doubtful whether they would ever have enjoyed a revival had it not been for flla's recording series. That Ella was the only singer who could have performed this work of revitalisation becomes clear once the qualities are listed which a performance of this kind requires. The artist concerned must have a wide vocal range. She must alsoâand this is really vitalâhave the kind of vocal personality which can, when the situation demands it, submerge itself in the material, allow the song to take over, as it were, and make the singerâs personality almost anonymous. This Ella managed to do on the nineteen albums which comprise the â Song Book ' series, with the result that today anybody who possesses the full set has at his fingertips the cream of popular songs sung by the mistress of the art.
These albums made history in another way, for they were the first to give the composer equal top billing with the artist, and thus state a fact which is usually overlooked, that the man who writes the song has a great deal to do with the quality of the performance. Unfortunately, the number of composers who are worthy of this treatment is limited, and having run through the folios of Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Berlin, Ellington, Gershwin, Arlen, Kern and Mercer, Ella found herself with nothing more to do in the â Song Book â line than a little mopping up, which can be found in a charming album called â Ella Sings Broadway Here the composers treated include Lerner and Loewe, Adler and Ross, and Frank Loesser, and the standard is just as high as that in the main body of the ' Song Book â series. There is, of course, another facet of Ella Fitzgerald s art which I have not mentioned. and that is her phenomenal ear for a chord change. Usually this kind of gift is reserved for instrumentalists who have spent their entire careers learning how one chord resolves into the next. It is very rare indeed for a singer to possess it. Ella apparently has no difficulty in taking a song like â Lady Be Good â, stripping away the melody and
singing variations based on the harmonies for as long as an audience will show willing to sit there and take it. I doubt whether this kind of thing can be learnt. No doubt Ella was born with the knack of distinguishing the movement of harmony. Certainly she has developed it over the years, enabling her to make slight but telling amendments to the written melody here and there which can enhance the original line.
Most of us have a favourite recorded moment in the career of those artists we study closely, but in the case of Ella Fitzgerald, a singer whose work I have been obliged to listen to very closely and very often for at least twelve years now. I find there is not one moment but a dozen, that the synthesis of her style and personality seems to be summed up not in one phrase but hundreds, and that for this reason a favourite song or album does not exist. Offhand 1 can recall the extraordinary qualities of a lullaby she manages to put into Harold Arlen's 'Written In The Stars', the delicacy of which she swings Kern's 'Iâm Old Fashioned â, animating it without destroying the subtle fabric of the written line, the surprising moment in Gershwin's â Boy What Love Has Done To Me â, when, on the line â I ought to leave him flat â she achieves what is comparatively rare for her. a stroke of dramatic as distinct from musical felicity, rendering the words just for those few moments as though they were a statement in a drama rather than a phrase in a song.
There have been those rare occasions when Ella has sung a song I do not like. On the other hand, there are in my possession thirty or forty LPs which will be among the last to go if ever the brokersâ men come calling. On these albums, and in the scattered recollections of the many concerts I have seen Ella Fitzgerald perform, are contained the quintessence of the popular song as I see it, the skilled blend of words and music, interpreted by an artist whose mastery is instinctive rather than acquired. In all there must be at least two hundred and fifty songs recorded by Ella which I have come over the years to accept as the definitive versions. I cannot, for instance, hear ' That Certain Feeling or ' / Am In Love ', or â A Ship Without A Sailâ without associating the music with the voice of Ella. If I were Berlin or Rodgers, or any of the other gentlemen whose more neglected pieces have now been rendered immortal through the â Song Book â series. I would cut Ella in on the royalties. Perhaps she doesn't need the money, but she has certainly earned it.
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