100 Jazz Profiles
1917 - 1996
Singer. The story of Ella Fitzgerald is a classic rags to riches tale, of her ascent from a one-parent family in Yonkers, New York, to headlining at the Savoy with Chick Webb by way of winning a talent contest at the Apollo Theatre and landing her first professional gigs with bandleader Tiny Bradshaw. Once she joined Webb, in 1934, it was not long before she began to break through to a large audience, and eventually had a major hit with A-Tisket, A-Tasket (1938).
She recorded copiously both with Webb and under her own name with members of his band. She took over running the orchestra when he died of TB in 1939, but broke up the band in the early 1940s to focus on a solo career. She recorded some fine discs for Milt Gabler, her producer at Decca, but then she moved to the Verve label, set up by Norman Granz, who also directed the Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts on which she became a firm and popular fixture.
For Granz she recorded her splendid series of Songbook albums, which are some of the finest ever recorded versions of classic American songs by the likes of Kern, Gershwin, Berlin and Ellington. Fitzgerald's light, sweet, voice and perfect diction was ideal for delivering these songs, but she could also improvise and scat sing with great freedom, which made her an ideal member of the JATP touring jam sessions. She dominated the world of jazz and popular song for half a century, continuing to appear into the early 1990s when failing sight and physical frailty finally ended her career.
Stuart Nicholson: Ella Fitzgerald (London, Gollancz) 1993
The Irving Berlin Songbook (Vols 1 and 2: Verve 829534 and 929535)
Suggested track: Let's Face The Music and Dance
First Lady of Song
Unofficial Ella page with excellent links, film and disc coverage
on radio 3
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