Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ella Fitzgerald: Twelve Nights in Hollywood

Memories of Ella:

Ella and Mel Tormé at the Grammys. The story goes that Ella's manager would not let her record with Mel, not wanting people to compare the two artists. How do you compare the incomparable?


One day I heard William B. Williams on WNEW-AM interviewing Ella Fitzgerald. "How are you Ella?" "I'm much better now that I'm talking to you Bill." Ella was recovering from surgery to remove her leg due to diabetes. Ella revealed in the interview that watching the soaps was one of her leisure time activities.
I heard an interview that musician André Previn conducted with Ella and the topic turned to musicianship. Ella said "Of course I'm not a musician..." and was stopped by Previn, who said, "then none of us are musicians."


I'm listening to the next-to-last track of the 4-CD set and what a blast. Ella is riffing on fellow singers Sophie Tucker, Della Reese, Pearl Bailey. Just a lot of fun doing the old saw horse "Bill Bailey." And then she encores on the final track with...a commentary/reprise on the same Bill Bailey with impressions of Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington and...herself! Let's go back to the beginning and listen again.

The Crescendo emcee announces that Mort Sahl will be appearing soon; after Mort you'll see Errol Garner and that "sparkling new comedy personality" Dick Gregory. Ella comes out to do a breathless "Lover Come Back to Me" in 1:51 and a smooth "Too Close For Comfort." I don't know exactly if this was the same order as in her actual twelve nights. She slows it down with "Little White Lies" but picks up the mood again with "The Sunny Side of the Street" with topical references to being "rich like Frank Sinatra." [The real lyric is "rich like Rockefeller" and if I were singing it today I would say "rich like that Gates fellow."] It's amazing how many of these tracks clock in under two minutes, most under four. This was an era when a movie could tell a good story in under two hours.

This great collection is not a scatter's delight, if that's what you're looking for with Ella; but wait until "Perdido." Ella says they have a request for it but she sings that she doesn't know the lyrics. No biggie. She'll write them as she scats, joke through famous song titles, and call on Ella's fellas (the band) to wail and blow some "Perdido." She's all that, a bag of chips, and an ice cold Coke with an extended scat in the middle that you wish would never end. Even a little "Laura" shows up near the finish to make up for the lack of real lyrics. At this point you're glad she supposedly doesn't have or know the lyrics. This is pre-Google, the Mad Men era (May 1961) so it might have the added advantage of being true, as Kissinger said to Nixon.

Is it possible I'm only on the 10th of the 76 songs? Ella, if I'm ever feeling blue, this album will be my bad mood buster. It is a delight, a great introduction to the American Songbook for the uninitiated and a welcome addition to the music collections for lovers of beautiful music, created by a special lady.


Brigid said...

Nice wrap-up on [Black's] Black History Month. Also, I really enjoy the throwback profile picture. I think I made that same face in a lot of my baby photos... am I right?


Brian said...

I think so. You're more Irish than me and I looked more Irish then.