Ella's parents were not married and separated soon after she was born in April 1917 in Newport Mews, Virginia; a few years later, her mother moved north to New York City along with new man. In 1932 Ella's mother died so her aunt took her into her home in Harlem to spare her from the harsh treatment of her father. The fifteen-year-old Ella hated school in Harlem, skipping it as soon as she could to work as a collector for the illegal Mafia-run lottery. Tracked down by the authorities, she was sent to a Catholic school but soon ran away, returning to Harlem where she lived rough on the streets.
Her newfound friends on the streets encouraged her to enter one of the regular talent competitions at the newly opened Apollo Theater. Having gone there with the intention of dancing, she was intimidated by the standard of the competition and decided she would sing instead; a momentous decision that changed the course of her life. The seventeen-year-old found herself singing with Benny Carter and his Orchestra on 21 November 1934. Three months later she had her first professional engagement, singing with Tiny Bradshaw's band at the Harlem Opera House.
A couple of weeks later she was hired by an unenthusiastic Chick Webb as his female singer and played her first gig on 8 March 1935 at Yale University, where she went down well with the white crowd. By the end of March Ella did her first radio broadcast with the band, and on 12 June she went into the recording studio for the first time; she recorded two songs, 'I'll Chase The Blues Away' and 'Love And Kisses'. Both are standard mid-1930s band arrangements, with Ella sounding young and enthusiastic but far from great.
Chick Webb had contracted tuberculosis of the spine while he was a child, leaving him both extremely short and suffering from a badly deformed spine. He was born in Maryland but moved to Harlem in his teens, and by age twenty-one he was leading his own band. Given his physical difficulties, it's surprising that he managed to become a drummer and a very good one at that. He drew admiration from many other bandleaders; Buddy Rich spoke of Webb as an inspiration and Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones is a big fan.
In 1936, Ella had her first hit with 'Sing Me A Swing Song (And Let Me Dance)', a much better song than her first two efforts; she sounded a lot more confident, having spent a whole year as a singer with a big band. As well as singing with Chick Webb, she performed on records with The Mills Brothers in 1937, but her big break came singing with Webb's orchestra in June 1938 'A-Tisket A-Tasket' spent ten weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. It was a sign of the times when Ella and Chick had a hit a few months later with 'Wacky Dust', an unabashed opus to cocaine. The following year Webb died, aged just thirty-four, and for a while Ella continued to front his orchestra, as well as recording solo.
However, it was a struggle to keep it going; the band members were very demanding and Ella, barely in her twenties, found their demands difficult to rebut. The band did have a manager but the issues of what to play and in which direction to take the band fell to Ella. Enter Benjamin Kornegay, who, from doing the occasional job for Ella ended up marrying her the day after Christmas 1941. The arrangement did not last long as it became clear that Kornegay was little more than a cheap hustler and an ex-con with a drug problem - possibly too much wacky dust - and the marriage was annulled.
Early 1942 saw the final demise of the old Chick Webb band that by then was known on record, and live, as Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra. Professionally Ella formed a successful short-term partnership with the Ink Spots and they had two No. 1 records in 1944, including the million-selling 'Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall'. But her career was far from flourishing. She did successfully record with both Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan in 1946, but they were minor hits.
Her 1947 recording of 'I Love You For Sentimental Reasons' with the Delta Rhythm Boys became a hit, while 'My Happiness' with the Song Spinners became her biggest hit for many years. Her last hit of the decade was 'Baby It's Cold Outside' with Louis Jordan, from the Esther William's 1949 film Neptune's Daughter. Of course what's obvious about all the 'hits' is the fact that Ella always sang with others - no one could quite work out how to make a solo singer out of the 'plump chanteuse' as one critic dubbed her.
Behind Ella's commercial failure was her partial abandonment of commercial recording for much of the last half of the decade, choosing instead to work with Dizzy Gillespie and becoming enamored with be-bop. She recorded a stunning version of 'Oh Lady Be Good' in 1947 with Bob Haggart - compare it to her later songbook recording from over a decade later and you will hear two very different singers. Ella's scat singing almost defies belief. The same goes for 'How High The Moon'; in Ella's hands the song becomes hers and hers alone. Charlie Parker was another she really admired, and while Dizzy and Ella's tour did good business at the box office, their work together was never going to sell a million records. Nevertheless they sold out a show at New York City's Carnegie Hall, appeared at the Downbeat club in Manhattan and had a very affectionate, though not romantic, relationship. Ella married bass player Ray Brown in December 1947 - it was a case of life reflecting art, as he played be-bop.
In 1949 Ella made her first appearance at the Jazz at the Philharmonic, which marked something of a watershed in her career; from this point on, Ella seemed to rise above the fray and to elevate her to a musically higher plane. As the 1950s rolled around, Ella's appearances on the Billboard charts were infrequent, but this was by no means a reflection on the quality of her recordings. Songs like 'I've Got A Crush On You' were stunning, pointing to the direction in which Ella was heading; it and a number of other brilliant recordings from this period are available on the album, Pure Ella. The public liked them too, meaning that by 1954 she had sold over 20 million records, which put her up there with the most popular singers, black or white - she was in any event way more popular than all the other black singers.
Once Norman Granz had become Ella's manager and wrestled her away from Decca, her career reached yet another level. The little girl who had slept rough in Harlem must have pinched herself when she found herself singing in the best concert halls around the world.
Pivotal to Ella's rise was Granz's vision for her to record the Songbook series of albums. Starting with Cole Porter was another masterstroke; his songs in Ella's hands became masterpieces. Ira Gershwin thought the same about his and his brother's compositions: 'I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.' The Songbooks helped to create what we have come to think of as the modern album. According to Granz, the process was a simple one: 'I'd come up with fifty songs that would suit Ella. We would sit together and reduce it down to, say, twenty and then I would make an arbitrary about what to include, because part of what we were doing with the Songbooks was to explore songwriters.' He could be so arbitrary because he knew that no matter what he chose, Ella would get it right. Checking the tapes of the Cole Porter Songbook it is interesting to see that in two cases - 'Let's Do It' and 'Just One Of Those Things' - Ella nailed them on the first take. On 'Ridin' High' they got to take fifteen.
In many ways, Ella's work on the eight Songbook albums has become the basis for her continuing popularity. These albums represent the pinnacle of Ella's art and an achievement that is matched by a mere handful of singers. The mood she creates with the best material has meant that many of these songs sung by Ella are now the definitive versions. Take 'Manhattan' from the Rodgers And Hart Songbook; Ella's phrasing when she goes into the chorus is transcendent. If you've never heard it take a listen; your life will never be the same again.
The Songbook albums were arranged by the likes of Nelson Riddle, Buddy Bregman, Billy May, Duke Ellington and Paul Weston. Both Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, the Duke's long time collaborator, appeared on the Songbook of the bandleader's songs. The Songbooks have even been lauded as a major contribution to American culture.
Ella's last U.S. chart success of any note was 'Mack The Knife', which managed to make No. 27 in 1960; this fact was probably of little consequence to the singer. What any chart placing did for Ella was to sometimes introduce her to some new, possibly younger, listeners, to whom she was just a name on their parent's ageing LP. Many of Ella's best singles can be found on Jukebox Ella, The Complete Verve Singles. Ella is one of those singers that younger listeners discover as they get a little older; sometimes when they fall in love or fall out of love. Ella, like all the great singers, talks to people through her songs. She makes a song's lyrics mean things, whereas in the hands of less talented singers they are just words arranged over a catchy melody.
Ella's personal life was never the match for the songs that she sang. Her marriage to Ray Brown lasted barely five years and that was the last time she was to marry. For Ella, singing about love was one thing but doing it was another matter. By 1986 she needed open-heart surgery, and in 1992 she had both legs amputated below the knees as a result of complications arising from diabetes. In 1991, the First Lady of Song, having famously once said 'the only thing better than singing is more singing' gave her final concert at New York's Carnegie Hall. The lady that Mel Torme described as, "The best singer on the planet," died five years later, leaving the world a better place from her magical gift to sing and swing better than it seemed possible for anyone to do. If Ella had a secret, it was her diversity. She had started out a swing singer, moved to be-bop, she sang perfect scat, was an extraordinary jazz vocalist and had no fear of modern material as the 1960s and '70s came along. From the blues to bossa nova and calypsos to carols she imbued all with her unique voice, sounding forever young. She was blessed with a range of three-octaves, beautiful diction and enunciation that was as good as it gets.
Ella Fitzgerald is the best woman ever to have sung jazz or any other kind of music… She was also one of the most loved, admired, and revered vocalists of the 20th Century.
This 10 CD set is the first to offer a comprehensive look at her six decade long recording career. From her days as Chick Webb's girl singer through her rise as Decca Records' singing star of the 1940s, through the early 1950s. In 1956 Norman Granz formed Verve Records, principally for Ella Fitzgerald, and during her decade long association with the label she defined the long laying record with her albums dedicated to the writers of the Great American Songbook.
In the latter half of the 1960s she recorded for several labels before signing to the Pablo label, the label formed and owned by Norman Granz. Ella's live performances, beginning with her appearances with Jazz at the Philharmonic, and throughout her
long career, made her one of the most popular concert performers; two of the CDs feature Ella's brilliant, often improvised, concert performances.
There never will be another female singer as good as Ella Fitzgerald - the Voice of Jazz.
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook is a 1956 studio album by American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by a studio orchestra conducted and arranged by Buddy Bregman, focusing on the songs of Cole Porter.
This was Fitzgerald's first album for the newly created Verve Records. Fitzgerald's time on the Verve label would see her produce her most highly acclaimed recordings, at the peak of her vocal powers. This album inaugurated Fitzgerald's Songbook series, each of the eight albums in the series focusing on a different composer of the canon known as the Great American Songbook. Fitzgerald's manager, (and the producer of many of her albums), Norman Granz, visited Cole Porter at the Waldolf-Astoria, and played him this entire album. Afterwards, Porter merely remarked, "My, what marvellous diction that girl has". This album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance." In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.
This LP is a classic. Ella Fitzgerald is heard at the peak of her powers during a Berlin concert that is famous for her unique version of "Mack the Knife"; when she forgot the words in mid-performance, she substituted spontaneous and remarkable lyrics of her own. All of the music (plus four other titles from the same concert) have been reissued on CD but, in one form or another, this music (which also includes a hot version of "How High the Moon") is essential for all serious jazz collections.
Words - Scott Yanow
An appearance in Hollywood for a first-rate jazz vocalist was not necessarily an opportunity to broadcast your visage and pander to everyone from Tacoma to Tallahassee. It could also include a date at the Crescendo, the Sunset Strip's best chance to find premier jazz. Gene Norman's nightclub hosted dozens of jazz legends (and a comic or two), and produced more than its share of excellent LPs recorded on location. Better even than Mel Torme's 1954 classic, the Ella Fitzgerald LP that resulted from her May 1961 appearances generated one of the best (and certainly most underrated) live records in her discography -- and almost 50 years later, it became a reissue event including a four-disc box set plus this single-disc distillation.
The Best of Twelve Nights in Hollywood includes 13 of the 75 songs from the box, plus an exclusive version of "Take the 'A' Train." All of Fitzgerald's hallmarks (technical wizardry, breakneck scatting, irrepressible humor and warmth) are on full display, with a small but expressive quartet backing her performance, including pianist Lou Levy, guitarist Herb Ellis, drummer Gus Johnson, and bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks.
Words - John Bush
The Very Best of the Gershwin Song Book reprises 12 of the performances from one of Ella Fitzgerald's very best Song Books, which results in a compilation of uniformly splendid music that nevertheless should make listeners want to hear everything she recorded during the sessions. Highlights include her nearly definitive versions of "Oh, Lady Be Good," "'S Wonderful," and "The Man I Love."
Words - John Bush
Another typically wonderful CD reissue of Ella Fitzgerald in her prime, this set augments the original LP (which finds Ella joined by pianist Lou Levy, guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Joe Mondragon, and drummer Stan Levey) with three previously unreleased selections from the same era (with Levey, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks, and drummer Gus Johnson). Ella is in fine form on such numbers as "A Night in Tunisia," an emotional "You're My Thrill," "Jersey Bounce," "Clap Hands! Here Comes Charlie," and an unissued "The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else)." Although not reaching the heights of her live performances, this is an excellent (and somewhat underrated) set.
Words - Scott Yanow
Producer Norman Granz oversaw two Porgy & Bess projects. The first involved Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and came together during the autumn of 1957 with brassy big band and lush orchestral arrangements by Russ Garcia. This is the classic Verve Porgy & Bess, and it's been reissued many, many times. The second, recorded during the spring and summer of 1976 and issued by RCA, brought Ray Charles together with versatile British vocalist Cleo Laine, backed by an orchestra under the direction of Frank DeVol. A comparison of these two realizations bears fascinating fruit, particularly when the medleys of street vendors are played back to back. Those peasant songs, used in real life to purvey honey, strawberries, and crabs, were gathered and notated by George Gershwin and novelist Du Bose Heyward in 1934 during a visit to Folly Island, a small barrier island ten miles south of Charleston, SC, known today as Folly Beach.
As Charleston Harbor had been one of the major ports during the importation of slaves from Africa, the waterfront was mostly populated by Gullahs, a reconstituted community that retained and preserved its ancestral cultures and languages to unusual degrees. Gershwin, who even learned to chant with the Gullah, absorbed the tonalities of the street cries he heard and wove them -- along with all of the other impressions stored within his sensitive mind -- into the fabric of his opera. What's really great about the Ella and Louis version is Ella, who handles each aria with disarming delicacy,
Signed by Norman Granz to Verve, the label he hoped to build around her, Ella Fitzgerald inaugurated her long association with one of the greatest jazz imprints by recording a four-song session in 1956 intended for singles. Though it was simply a dry run for her first "official" work, The Cole Porter Songbook, she kept the singles market in mind during her time at Verve, recording occasionally and always hoping for a pop breakthrough. Though singles-chart success never arrived (her "Songbook" full-lengths were much more popular), Verve's release of the two-disc Jukebox Ella: The Complete Verve Singles, Vol. 1 proves that much excellent material went onto her Verve 45s. To Ella, nearly every song represented an opportunity for interpretation, from Gershwin's standard "But Not for Me" (a songbook title also released on single) to the tossed-off novelty "Hotta Chocolatta"; she never sacrificed a close reading simply because the song wasn't intended for a jazz fan.
While these titles do occasionally reveal the influence of the novelty, there is so much care exhibited by Fitzgerald and her accompanists (including Buddy Bregman, Nelson Riddle, Marty Paich, Paul Weston, and Russ Garcia) that the results rival much of her non-songbook work for the label. One of the best is a re-recording of her early hit "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" with Ella going into controlled childish tantrums never equalled in her discography (and, thus, in no other's). Other intriguing novelties include singles (and usually accompanying flips) dealing with live recordings, Christmas songs, foreign-language recordings, and the bossa nova (including "Star Dust" taken in rhythm). Only one acknowledges rock & roll, the mostly unembarrassed "Ringo Beat." Whether it's W.C. Handy's "Beale Street Blues" or Moe Koffman's "Swingin' Shepherd Blues," Ella treated a song with respect.
Words - John Bush
Although Ella Fitzgerald worked in many different settings, from big bands to guitar-and-voice duets to sets with nearly every piano player in the business (from Duke Ellington on down), one could make a case that her best recordings were made with Oscar Peterson and his small bands. Released in 1976, Ella and Oscar is one of those classic recordings, an album that's as spare and intimate as any that the pair ever issued. In fact, the only other performer featured on this set is Peterson's longtime bassist Ray Brown, whose contributions are minimal. These songs, from the mellifluous "Mean to Me" to a languid "April in Paris," are simple and beautiful.
Ella Fitzgerald was arguably the greatest jazz vocalist of her generation; Billie Holiday was her only real rival, and while Holiday's demons took a toll on her voice and abilities over time, Fitzgerald remained a remarkably gifted and capable performer to the very end of her career. Blessed with a gorgeous voice and an uncanny sense of pitch, Fitzgerald's phrasing was bold, artful, and emotionally resonant, and her scat singing revealed instincts as a soloist that would have done any horn player proud. This volume in the Verve Ultimate Cool series collects 11 songs recorded during Fitzgerald's 1956-1966 tenure with the noted jazz label Verve Records, and relies on the standards that were always Ella's bread and butter. If there isn't much here that would surprise a longtime Fitzgerald fan, her body of work was strong enough that surprises weren't much needed; Ella sounds strong and confident on every track, whether she's rolling gracefully with a big band on "Stormy Weather" or kicking up some dust with a small combo as she scats through "Oh Lady Be Good," and this material leaves no questions about her mastery as a song stylist. Given the dozens of Ella Fitzgerald collections available, Verve Ultimate Cool doesn't really stand out as something striking or remarkable, but if you want to relax with some material from one of the finest singers who ever stood before a microphone, this will serve the purpose well, and there isn't a moment here that isn't a joy to hear.