Artist Spotlight: Ella Fitzgerald

Here we are! The first official post on Harmony Avenue.

A few times a week (this week I’ll be doing three, though I plan to make it two times a week in the future), I’ll be a spotlighting a musical artist that I think you should know about, or that I want to celebrate and share. Since this is my first post and I’m not entirely sure how many potential readers I have, I’m going to start things off with one of my favorite artists of all time, albeit one that is pretty well-known (in the future I’m probably going to focus on more on lesser-known artists for the most part). Let’s turn the artist spotlight on…

Ella Fitzgerald!

Ella is known as “The First Lady of Song” (in some cases, “The First Lady of Jazz”), and during her nearly 50 years of recording, certainly left an incredible legacy in both the world of jazz music and of popular song in general. She was best known for her Songbook series, where she paid tribute to various composers of the Great American Songbook. Here’s an excellent cut from one of those:

She also was known for her stunning live performances and terrific improvisational abilities. A terrific example of this? Her 1960 performance of “Mack The Knife” in Berlin, where she forgot the words and started making up lyrics on the spot:

Here’s another great scatting performance of hers:

So how did I get acquainted with Ella’s music? About six years ago, we got a new computer and I was introduced the world of downloading music. It’s around this time that I started exploring all the music out there on the Internet…and I started fostering my love for jazz. Believe it or not (seeing as she’s essentially my favorite artist of all time today), Ella was far from the first jazz artist I came to love. (In fact, there was a duet of some sort she’d recorded with Barry Manilow on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” that I hated, before I knew about her other music. I also didn’t care for her version of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” at first.) But one day I was looking around on MSN Music (may it rest in peace 🙂 ), and for some reason, I started listening to her music at an incredible pace. Her voice! The swing! It sounded so amazing. Before long, I had downloaded quite a lot of her music. To this day I still don’t have every Ella Fitzgerald song I’d like to, but I’m pretty dang close. I’ve even read her biography (by Stuart Nicholson, an excellent read called “Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz”) twice.

One part of Ella’s repertoire that I think is obscenely underrated is her pop covers. I’m a big fan of covers, and I don’t like how a lot of jazz fans look with disdain on jazz artists doing songs from the pop world. I think Ella did terrific on a lot of non-jazz numbers. Here’s a great live cover of the Beatles:

I also admire how she kept singing and singing until only a few years before her death. Although her voice deteriorated a bit as she grew older, she still had incredible vocal artistry up until the end. Here’s a fine clip of her singing “How High The Moon” with Manhattan Transfer at the 1983 Grammys (she was 66!):

Ella lived a terrific life, and I strongly encourage you to check out her music. (You don’t have to listen to all of it in one night…and really, you probably couldn’t. She recorded a heck of a lot.  🙂 )

That’s my first artist spotlight. I’ll probably be tinkering with the format a little as I go along. If you have any ideas or feedback, please let me know in the comments. I also welcome any suggestions you might have for artists I could spotlight…although I have a long list of great musicians in mind, there’s always more terrific music out there. More posts to come this week. Thanks for reading!


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