Dave Lagadi Music
Sammy Davis Jr
Recognized throughout much of his career as "the world's greatest living entertainer," Sammy Davis, Jr. was a remarkably popular and versatile performer equally adept at acting, singing, dancing, and impersonations -- in short, a variety artist in the classic tradition. A member of the famed Rat Pack, he was among the very first African-American talents to find favor with audiences on both sides of the color barrier, and remains a perennial icon of cool. Born in Harlem on December 8, 1925, Davis made his stage debut at the age of three performing with Holiday in Dixieland, a black vaudeville troupe featuring his father and helmed by his de facto uncle, Will Mastin; dubbed "Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget," he proved phenomenally popular with audiences and the act was soon renamed Will Mastin's Gang Featuring Little Sammy. At the age of seven, Davis made his film debut in the legendary musical short Rufus Jones for President, and later received tap-dancing lessons courtesy of the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. In 1941, the Mastin Gang opened for Tommy Dorsey at Detroit's Michigan Theater; there Davis first met Dorsey vocalist Frank Sinatra -- the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
In 1943, Davis joined the U.S. Army, where he endured a constant battle with racism; upon his return from duty, the group was renamed the Will Mastin Trio. Three years later they opened for Mickey Rooney, who encouraged Davis to begin including his many impersonations in the Trio's act; where previously they had exclusively performed music, the addition of comedy brought new life to the group, and by the beginning of the next decade, they were headlining venues including New York's Capitol club and Ciro's in Hollywood. In 1952, at the invitation of Sinatra, they also played the newly integrated Copacabana. In 1954, Davis signed to Decca, topping the charts with his debut LP, Starring Sammy Davis, Jr.; that same year he lost his left eye in a much-publicized auto accident, but upon returning to the stage in early 1955 was greeted with even greater enthusiasm than before on the strength of a series of hit singles including "Something's Gotta Give," "Love Me or Leave Me," and "That Old Black Magic." A year later, Davis made his Broadway debut in the musical Mr. Wonderful, starring in the show for over 400 performances and launching a hit with the song "Too Close for Comfort."
In 1958, Davis resumed his film career after a quarter-century layoff with Anna Lucasta, followed a year later by his acclaimed turn in Porgy and Bess. Also in 1959 he became a charter member of the Rat Pack, a loose confederation of Sinatra associates (also including Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop) which began regularly performing together at the Sands casino in Las Vegas. In 1960, they made Ocean's Eleven, the first in a series of hip and highly self-referential Rat Pack films; although Davis' inclusion in the group was perceived in many quarters as an egalitarian move, many Black audiences felt he was simply a token -- the butt of subtly racist jokes -- and declared him a sell-out. His earlier conversion to Judaism had been met with considerable controversy within the African-American community as well; still, nothing compared to the public outcry over his 1960 marriage to Swedish actress May Britt, which even elicited death threats. Still, Davis remained a major star, appearing in the 1962 Rat Pack film Sergeants 3 and scoring a major hit with "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Two years later he returned to Broadway in the long-running Golden Boy, scoring a Tony nomination for his performance.
In 1964, the third Rat Pack film, Robin and the Seven Hoods, was released; two years later, in the wake of the publication of his autobiography Yes I Can, Davis was also among a number of musical luminaries, including Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, who co-starred in the jazz drama A Man Called Adam. In 1968, he and Lawford teamed as Salt and Pepper; the picture was a hit, and a sequel, One More Time, appeared in 1970. In between the two, Davis delivered one of his most memorable screen performances in Bob Fosse's 1969 musical Sweet Charity; he also appeared in a number of television features, including The Pigeon, The Trackers, and Poor Devil. In 1972, Davis topped the pop charts with "The Candy Man," from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; from 1975 to 1977, he hosted his own syndicated variety show, Sammy and Company, and in 1978, starred in the film Sammy Stops the World. However, in the late '70s and through much of the '80s, Davis' profile diminished, and he was primarily confined to the casino circuit, with a 1988 comeback tour he mounted with Sinatra and Martin largely unsuccessful. His appearance in the 1989 film Tap was much acclaimed, but it was to be his last screen performance -- a lifelong smoker, Davis died of cancer on May 16, 1990. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
William "Count" Basie (August 21, 1904 – April 26, 1984) was an American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer. His mother first taught him piano and he started performing in his teens. Dropping out of school, he learned to operate lights for vaudeville and improvised to accompany silent films at a local theater in his town of Red Bank, New Jersey. By 16, he increasingly played jazz piano at parties, resorts and other venues. In 1924, he went to Harlem, where his performing career expanded; he toured with groups to the major jazz cities of Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City. In 1929 he joined Bennie Moten's band in Kansas City, and played with them for years, until Moten's death in 1935.
That year Basie formed his own jazz orchestra, and in 1936 took them to Chicago for a long engagement and their first recording. He led the group for almost 50 years, creating innovations like the use of two "split" tenor saxophones, emphasizing the rhythm section, riffing with a big band, using arrangers to broaden their sound, and others. Many notable musicians came to prominence under his direction, including the tenor saxophonistsLester Young and Herschel Evans, the guitarist Freddie Green, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison and singers Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams. Basie's theme songs were "One O'Clock Jump," developed in 1935 in the early days of his band, and "April In Paris".
Basie hitched his star to some of the most famous vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s, which helped keep the Big Band sound alive and added greatly to his recording catalog. Jimmy Rushing sang with Basie in the late 1930s. Joe Williams toured with the band and was featured on the 1957 album One O'Clock Jump, and 1956's Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings, with "Every Day (I Have the Blues)" becoming a huge hit. With Billy Eckstine on the album Basie-Eckstine Inc., in 1959. Ella Fitzgerald made some memorable recordings with Basie, including the 1963 album Ella and Basie!. With the 'New Testament' Basie band in full swing, and arrangements written by a youthful Quincy Jones, this album proved a swinging respite from her Songbook recordings and constant touring she did during this period. She even toured with the Basie Orchestra in the mid-1970s, and Fitzgerald and Basie also met on the 1979 albums A Classy Pair, Digital III at Montreux, and A Perfect Match, the last two also recorded live at Montreux. In addition to Quincy Jones, Basie was using arrangers such as Benny Carter (Kansas City Suite), Neal Hefti (The Atomic Mr Basie), and Sammy Nestico (Basie-Straight Ahead).
Frank Sinatra recorded for the first time with Basie on 1962's Sinatra-Basie and for a second studio album on 1964's It Might as Well Be Swing, which was arranged by Quincy Jones. Jones also arranged and conducted 1966's live Sinatra at the Sands. In May 1970, Sinatra performed in London's Royal Festival Hall with the Basie orchestra, in a charity benefit for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Sinatra later said of this concert "I have a funny feeling that those two nights could have been my finest hour, really. It went so well; it was so thrilling and exciting".
Basie also recorded with Tony Bennett in the early 1960s — their albums together included the live recording at Las Vegas and Strike Up the Band, a studio album. Basie also toured with Bennett, including a date at Carnegie Hall. Other notable recordings were with Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, and Sarah Vaughan. One of Basie's biggest regrets was never recording with Louis Armstrong, though they shared the same bill several times.
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and big-band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions. In the opinion of Bob Blumenthal of The Boston Globe, "[i]n the century since his birth, there has been no greater composer, American or otherwise, than Edward Kennedy Ellington." A major figure in the history of jazz, Ellington's music stretched into various other genres, including blues, gospel, film scores, popular, and classical. His career spanned more than 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, composing stage musicals, and world tours. Several of his instrumental works were adapted into songs that became standards. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his eloquence and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other traditional genres of music. His reputation increased after his death and the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowed on him a special posthumous honor in 1999.
Ellington called his music "American Music" rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as "beyond category." These included many of the musicians who were members of his orchestra, some of whom are considered among the best in jazz in their own right, but it was Ellington who melded them into one of the most well-known jazz orchestral units in the history of jazz. He often composed specifically for the style and skills of these individuals, such as "Jeep's Blues" for Johnny Hodges, "Concerto for Cootie" for Cootie Williams, which later became "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" with Bob Russell's lyrics, and "The Mooche" for Tricky Sam Nanton and Bubber Miley. He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such as Juan Tizol's "Caravan" and "Perdido" which brought the "Spanish Tinge" to big-band jazz. Several members of the orchestra remained there for several decades. After 1941, he frequently collaborated with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his "writing and arranging companion." Ellington recorded for many American record companies, and appeared in several films.
Ellington led his band from 1923 until his death in 1974. His son Mercer Ellington, who had already been handling all administrative aspects of his father's business for several decades, led the band until his own death in 1996. At that point, the original band dissolved. Paul Ellington, Mercer's youngest son and executor of the Duke Ellington estate, kept the Duke Ellington Orchestra going from Mercer's death onwards.
Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 to James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. Daisy and J.E. were both pianists. Daisy primarily played parlor songs and J.E. preferred operatic airs. They lived with his maternal grandparents at 2129 Ida Place (now Ward Place), NW in the West End neighborhood of Washington, D.C. His father, James Edward Ellington, was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina on April 15, 1879 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1886 with his parents. Daisy Kennedy was born in Washington, D.C. on January 4, 1879, and was the daughter of a former American slave. James Ellington made blueprints for the United States Navy.
At the age of seven, Ellington began taking piano lessons from Marietta Clinkscales. Daisy surrounded her son with dignified women to reinforce his manners and teach him to live elegantly. Ellington’s childhood friends noticed that "his casual, offhand manner, his easy grace, and his dapper dress gave him the bearing of a young nobleman", and began calling him Duke. Ellington credited his "chum" Edgar McEntree for the nickname. "I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title. So he called me Duke."
Though Ellington took piano lessons, he was more interested in baseball. "President Roosevelt (Teddy) would come by on his horse sometimes, and stop and watch us play," he recalled. Ellington went to Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D.C. He got his first job selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games.
In the summer of 1914, while working as a soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Cafe, he wrote his first composition, "Soda Fountain Rag" (also known as the "Poodle Dog Rag"). Ellington created "Soda Fountain Rag" by ear, because he had not yet learned to read and write music. "I would play the 'Soda Fountain Rag' as a one-step, two-step, waltz, tango, and fox trot," Ellington recalled. "Listeners never knew it was the same piece. I was established as having my own repertoire." In his autobiography, Music is my Mistress (1973), Ellington said he missed more lessons than he attended, feeling at the time that playing the piano was not his talent. Ellington started sneaking into Frank Holiday's Poolroom at the age of fourteen. Hearing the poolroom pianists play ignited Ellington's love for the instrument and he began to take his piano studies seriously. Among the many piano players he listened to were Doc Perry, Lester Dishman, Louis Brown, Turner Layton, Gertie Wells, Clarence Bowser, Sticky Mack, Blind Johnny, Cliff Jackson, Claude Hopkins, Phil Wurd, Caroline Thornton, Luckey Roberts, Eubie Blake, Joe Rochester, and Harvey Brooks.
Ellington began listening to, watching, and imitating ragtime pianists, not only in Washington, D.C., but in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, where he vacationed with his mother during the summer months. Dunbar High School music teacher Henry Lee Grant gave him private lessons in harmony. With the additional guidance of Washington pianist and band leader Oliver "Doc" Perry, Ellington learned to read sheet music, project a professional style, and improve his technique. Ellington was also inspired by his first encounters with stride pianistsJames P. Johnson and Luckey Roberts. Later in New York he took advice from Will Marion Cook, Fats Waller, and Sidney Bechet. Ellington started to play gigs in cafés and clubs in and around Washington, D.C. and his attachment grew to be so strong that he turned down an art scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1916. Three months before graduating he dropped out of Armstrong Manual Training School, where he was studying commercial art.
From 1917 through 1919, Ellington launched his musical career, painting commercial signs by day and playing piano by night. Through his day job, Duke's entrepreneurial side came out: when a customer would ask him to make a sign for a dance or party, he would ask them if they had musical entertainment; if not, Ellington would ask if he could play for them. He also had a messenger job with the U.S. Navy and State Departments. Ellington moved out of his parents' home and bought his own as he became a successful pianist. At first, he played in other ensembles, and in late 1917 formed his first group, "The Duke’s Serenaders" ("Colored Syncopators", his telephone directory advertising proclaimed). He was not only a member, but also the booking agent. His first play date was at the True Reformer's Hall, where he took home 75 cents.
Ellington played throughout the Washington, D.C. area and into Virginia for private society balls and embassy parties. The band included Otto Hardwick, who switched from bass to saxophone; Arthur Whetsol on trumpet; Elmer Snowden on banjo; and Sonny Greer on drums. The band thrived, performing for both African-American and white audiences, a rarity during the racially divided times.
Duke in the 1940s
The band reached a creative peak in the early 1940s, when Ellington and a small hand-picked group of his composers and arrangers wrote for an orchestra of distinctive voices who displayed tremendous creativity.
Some of the musicians created a sensation in their own right. The short-lived Jimmy Blanton transformed the use of double bass in jazz, allowing it to function as a solo rather than a rhythm instrument alone. Ben Webster, the Orchestra's first regular tenor saxophonist, started a rivalry with Johnny Hodges as the Orchestra's foremost voice in the sax section. Ray Nance joined, replacing Cootie Williams (who had "defected", contemporary wags claimed, to Benny Goodman). Nance, however, added violin to the instrumental colors Ellington had at his disposal.
Three-minute masterpieces flowed from the minds of Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Ellington's son Mercer Ellington, Mary Lou Williams and members of the Orchestra. "Cotton Tail", "Main Stem", "Harlem Airshaft", "Sidewalks of New York (East Side, West Side)", "Jack the bear", and dozens of others date from this period.
Privately made recordings of Nance's first concert date, at Fargo, North Dakota, on November 7, 1940 by Jack Towers and Dick Burris, are probably the most effective display of the band during this period. These recordings, later released as Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940 Live, are among the first of innumerable live performances which survive, made by enthusiasts or broadcasters, significantly expanding the Ellington discography.
Ellington's long-term aim became to extend the jazz form from the three-minute limit of the 78 rpm record side, of which he was an acknowledged master. He had composed and recorded Creole Rhapsody as early as 1931 (issued as both sides of a 12" record for Victor and both sides of a 10" record for Brunswick), and his tribute to his mother, "Reminiscing in Tempo," had filled four 10" record sides in 1935; however, it was not until the 1940s that this became a regular feature of Ellington's work.
In this, he was helped by Strayhorn, who had enjoyed a more thorough training in the forms associated with classical music than Ellington. The first of these, "Black, Brown, and Beige" (1943), was dedicated to telling the story of African-Americans, and the place of slavery and the church in their history. Ellington debuted Black, Brown and Beige in Carnegie Hall on January 23, 1943, beginning a series of concerts there suited to displaying Ellington's longer works. While some jazz musicians had played at Carnegie Hall before, few had performed anything as elaborate as Ellington’s work.
Unfortunately, starting a regular pattern, Ellington's longer works were generally not well received. Jump for Joy, a full-length musical based on themes of African-American identity, debuted on July 10, 1941 at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles. Although it had the support of the Hollywood establishment, and received mostly positive reviews, its socio-political outlook provoked a negative reaction among some members of the public. It ran for 122 performances until September 29, 1941, with a brief revival in November of that year. Its subject matter did not make it appealing to Broadway, despite Ellington's plans to take it there.
The settlement of the first recording ban of 1942–43 had a serious effect on all the big bands because of the increase in royalty payments to musicians which resulted from it. The financial viability of Ellington's Orchestra came under threat, though Ellington's income as a songwriter ultimately subsidized it. Ellington always spent lavishly and although he drew a respectable income from the Orchestra's operations, the band's income often just covered expenses.
The music industry's focus shifted away from the big bands to the work of solo vocalists such as the young Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and mainstream groups like The Andrews Sisters as World War II drew to a close. The Kay Davis wordless vocal feature "Transblucency" (1946) was not going to have a similar reach. By the mid 1940s, jazz artists were changing their approach. The new form of jazz, bebop was an early hit with club owners of smaller venues who could draw the jazz form's growing audiences in New York City at a fraction of the cost of hiring a big band. Newer, smaller bands and splinter forms of music increasingly put pressure on the larger clubs who now had to pay higher wages to maintain their big bands. Bebop was the preferred form for younger talent based in New York, such as Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk who both rarely embraced the Big Band idiom. By 1950, another emerging musical trend, the African-American popular music style known as Rhythm and Blues driven by musicians like Fats Domino was drawing young audiences away.
Ellington continued on his own course through these tectonic shifts in the music business. He did not wholly resist trends while trying to turn out major works. He still performed major extended compositions such as Harlem (1950), whose score he presented to music-loving President Harry Truman. In 1951, Ellington suffered a major loss of personnel, with Sonny Greer, Lawrence Brown, and most significantly Johnny Hodges, leaving to pursue other ventures. Lacking overseas opportunities and motion picture appearances, Ellington's Orchestra survived on "one-nighters" and whatever else came their way.
Ellington's hope that television would provide a significant new outlet for his type of jazz was not fulfilled. Tastes and trends had moved on without him. The introduction of the 33⅓ rpm LP record and hi-fi phonograph, though, did give new life to many of his older compositions. However by 1955, after three years of recording for Capitol, Ellington no longer had a regular recording affiliation.
Ellington was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, but was turned down. His reaction at 67 years old: "Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be famous too young." In September of the same year, the first of his Sacred Concerts was given its premiere. It was an attempt to fuse Christian liturgy with jazz, and even though it received mixed reviews, Ellington was proud of the composition and performed it dozens of times. This concert was followed by two others of the same type in 1968 and 1973, known as the Second and Third Sacred Concerts. This caused controversy in what was already a tumultuous time in the United States. Many saw the Sacred Music suites as an attempt to reinforce commercial support for organized religion, though Ellington simply said it was, "the most important thing I've done." The Steinway piano upon which the Sacred Concerts were composed is part of the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Like Haydn and Mozart, Ellington conducted his orchestra from the piano – he always played the keyboard parts when the Sacred Concerts were performed.
Ellington continued to make vital and innovative recordings, including The Far East Suite (1966), the New Orleans Suite (1970), and The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971), much of it inspired by his world tours. It was during this time that Ellington recorded his only album with Frank Sinatra, entitled Francis A. & Edward K. (1967).
Ellington was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966. He was later awarded several other prizes, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, an Honorary PhD from the Berklee College of Music in 1971, and the Legion of Honor by France in 1973, the highest civilian honors in each country.
Ella Jane Fitzgerald(April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996), also known as the "First Lady of Song", "Queen of Jazz", and "Lady Ella", was an American jazz and song vocalist. With a vocal range spanning three octaves (D♭3 to D♭6), she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
Fitzgerald was a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over the course of her 59-year recording career, she was the winner of 13 Grammy Awards and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush.
Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia, the child of a common-law marriage between William and Temperance "Tempie" Fitzgerald. The pair separated soon after her birth, and Ella and her mother went to Yonkers, New York, where they eventually moved in with Tempie's longtime boyfriend, Joseph Da Silva. Fitzgerald's half-sister, Frances Da Silva, was born in 1923. She and her family were Methodists and were active in the Bethany African Methodist Episcopal Church, and she regularly attended worship services, Bible study, and Sunday School.
In her youth, Fitzgerald wanted to be a dancer, although she loved listening to jazz recordings by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and The Boswell Sisters. She idolized the lead singer Connee Boswell, later saying, "My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it....I tried so hard to sound just like her."
In 1932, her mother died from a heart attack. Following this trauma, Fitzgerald's grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. Abused by her stepfather, she was first taken in by an aunt and, at one point, worked as a lookout at a bordello and also with a Mafia-affiliated numbers runner. When the authorities caught up with her, she was first placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale, the Bronx. However, when the orphanage proved too crowded, she was moved to the New YorkTraining School for Girls in Hudson, New York, a state reformatory. Eventually she escaped and for a time was homeless.
She made her singing debut at 17 on November 21, 1934, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. She pulled in a weekly audience at the Apollo and won the opportunity to compete in one of the earliest of its famous "Amateur Nights". She had originally intended to go on stage and dance, but, intimidated by the Edwards Sisters, a local dance duo, she opted to sing instead in the style of Connee Boswell. She sang Boswell's "Judy" and "The Object of My Affection," a song recorded by the Boswell Sisters, and won the first prize of US$25.00.
Fitzgerald married at least twice, and there is evidence that she may have married a third time. In 1941 she married Benny Kornegay, a convicted drug dealer and local dockworker. The marriage was annulled after two years.
Her second marriage, in December 1947, was to the famous bass player Ray Brown, whom she had met while on tour with Dizzy Gillespie's band a year earlier. Together they adopted a child born to Fitzgerald's half-sister, Frances, whom they christened Ray Brown, Jr. With Fitzgerald and Brown often busy touring and recording, the child was largely raised by her aunt, Virginia. Fitzgerald and Brown divorced in 1953, bowing to the various career pressures both were experiencing at the time, though they would continue to perform together.
In July 1957, Reuters reported that Fitzgerald had secretly married Thor Einar Larsen, a young Norwegian, in Oslo. She had even gone as far as furnishing an apartment in Oslo, but the affair was quickly forgotten when Larsen was sentenced to five months hard labor in Sweden for stealing money from a young woman to whom he had previously been engaged.
Fitzgerald was also notoriously shy. Trumpet player Mario Bauza, who played behind Fitzgerald in her early years with Chick Webb, remembered that "she didn’t hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music….She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig." When, later in her career, the Society of Singers named an award after her, Fitzgerald explained, "I don't want to say the wrong thing, which I always do. I think I do better when I sing."
Already visually impaired by the effects of diabetes, Fitzgerald had both her legs amputated in 1993. In 1996 she died of the disease in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 79. She is buried in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. The career history and archival material from Ella's long career are housed in the Archives Center at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History while her personal music arrangements are at The Library of Congress. Her extensive cookbook collection was donated to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University while her published sheet music collection is at the Schoenberg Library at UCLA.
In January 1935, Fitzgerald won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. She met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb there. Webb had already hired singer Charlie Linton to work with the band and was, The New York Times later wrote, "reluctant to sign her....because she was gawky and unkempt, a diamond in the rough." Webb offered her the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University.
She began singing regularly with Webb's Orchestra through 1935 at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. Fitzgerald recorded several hit songs with them, including "Love and Kisses" and "(If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)". But it was her 1938 version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket", a song she co-wrote, that brought her wide public acclaim.
Chick Webb died on June 16, 1939, and his band was renamed "Ella and her Famous Orchestra" with Ella taking on the role of nominal bandleader. Fitzgerald recorded nearly 150 sides with the orchestra before it broke up in 1942, "the majority of them novelties and disposable pop fluff".
In 1942, Fitzgerald left the band to begin a solo career. Now signed to the Decca label, she had several popular hits while recording with such artists as the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and the Delta Rhythm Boys.
With Decca's Milt Gabler as her manager, she began working regularly for the jazz impresario Norman Granz and appeared regularly in his Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) concerts. Fitzgerald's relationship with Granz was further cemented when he became her manager, although it would be nearly a decade before he could record her on one of his many record labels.
With the demise of the Swing era and the decline of the great touring big bands, a major change in jazz music occurred. The advent of bebop led to new developments in Fitzgerald's vocal style, influenced by her work with Dizzy Gillespie's big band. It was in this period that Fitzgerald started including scat singing as a major part of her performance repertoire. While singing with Gillespie, Fitzgerald recalled, "I just tried to do [with my voice] what I heard the horns in the band doing."
Her 1945 scat recording of "Flying Home" arranged by Vic Schoen would later be described by The New York Times as "one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the decade....Where other singers, most notably Louis Armstrong, had tried similar improvisation, no one before Miss Fitzgerald employed the technique with such dazzling inventiveness." Her bebop recording of "Oh, Lady be Good!" (1947) was similarly popular and increased her reputation as one of the leading jazz vocalists.
Move to Verve and mainstream success
Further information: The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks
Fitzgerald was still performing at Granz's JATP concerts by 1955. She left Decca and Granz, now her manager, created Verve Records around her.
Fitzgerald later described the period as strategically crucial, saying, "I had gotten to the point where I was only singing be-bop. I thought be-bop was 'it', and that all I had to do was go some place and sing bop. But it finally got to the point where I had no place to sing. I realized then that there was more to music than bop. Norman ... felt that I should do other things, so he produced The Cole Porter Songbook with me. It was a turning point in my life."
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, released in 1956, was the first of eight multi-album Songbook sets Fitzgerald would record for Verve at irregular intervals from 1956 to 1964. The composers and lyricists spotlighted on each set, taken together, represent the greatest part of the cultural canon known as the Great American Songbook. Her song selections ranged from standards to rarities and represented an attempt by Fitzgerald to cross over into a non-jazz audience.
Ella Fitzgerald in 1968. Photo courtesy of the Fraser MacPherson estate
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook was the only Songbook on which the composer she interpreted played with her. Duke Ellington and his longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn both appeared on exactly half the set's 38 tracks and wrote two new pieces of music for the album: "The E and D Blues" and a four-movement musical portrait of Fitzgerald (the only Songbook track on which Fitzgerald does not sing). The Songbook series ended up becoming the singer's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work, and probably her most significant offering to American culture. The New York Times wrote in 1996, "These albums were among the first pop records to devote such serious attention to individual songwriters, and they were instrumental in establishing the pop album as a vehicle for serious musical exploration."
A few days after Fitzgerald's death, New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote that in the Songbook series Fitzgerald "performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis's contemporaneous integration of white and African-American soul. Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians."Frank Sinatra was moved out of respect for Fitzgerald to block Capitol Records from re-releasing his own recordings in a similar, single composer vein.
Fitzgerald also recorded albums exclusively devoted to the songs of Porter and Gershwin in 1972 and 1983; the albums being, respectively, Ella Loves Cole and Nice Work If You Can Get It. A later collection devoted to a single composer was released during her time with Pablo Records, Ella Abraça Jobim, featuring the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim.
While recording the Songbooks and the occasional studio album, Fitzgerald toured 40 to 45 weeks per year in the United States and internationally, under the tutelage of Norman Granz. Granz helped solidify her position as one of the leading live jazz performers.
In the mid-1950s, Fitzgerald became the first African-American to perform at the Mocambo, after Marilyn Monroe had lobbied the owner for the booking. The booking was instrumental in Fitzgerald's career. The incident was turned into a play by Bonnie Greer in 2005. There are several live albums on Verve that are highly regarded by critics. Ella at the Opera House shows a typical JATP set from Fitzgerald. Ella in Rome and Twelve Nights In Hollywood display her vocal jazz canon. Ella in Berlin is still one of her best selling albums; it includes a Grammy-winning performance of "Mack the Knife" in which she forgets the lyrics, but improvises magnificently to compensate.
As Will Friedwald noted,
Unlike any other singer you could name, Fitzgerald has the most amazing asset in the very sound of her voice: it's easily one of the most beautiful and sonically perfect sounds known to man. Even if she couldn't do anything with it, the instrument that Fitzgerald starts with is dulcet and pure and breathtakingly beautiful. As Henry Pleasants has observed, she has a wider range than most opera singers, and many of the latter, including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, are among her biggest fans. And the intonation that goes with the voice is, to put it conservatively, God-like. Fitzgerald simply exists in tune, and she hits every note that there is without the slightest trace of effort. Other singers tend to sound like they're trying to reach up to a note - Fitzgerald always sounds like she's already there. If anything, she's descending from her heavenly perch and swooping down to whatever pitch she wants.
Henry Pleasants, an American classical-music critic, wrote this about her:
She has a lovely voice, one of the warmest and most radiant in its natural range that I have heard in a lifetime of listening to singers in every category. She has an impeccable and ultimately sophisticated rhythmic sense, and flawless intonation. Her harmonic sensibility is extraordinary. She is endlessly inventive... it is not so much what she does, or even the way she does it, it's what she does not do. What she does not do, putting it simply as possible, is anything wrong. There is simply nothing in performance to which one would take exception... Everything seems to be just right. One would not want it any other way. Nor can one, for a moment imagine it any other way. Fitzgerald had an extraordinary vocal range. A mezzo-soprano (who sang much lower than most classical contraltos), she had a range of “2 octaves and a sixth from a low D or D flat to a high C flat and possibly higher”.
Verve Records was sold to MGM in 1963 for $3 million and in 1967 MGM failed to renew Fitzgerald's contract. Over the next five years she flitted between Atlantic, Capitol and Reprise. Her material at this time represented a departure from her typical jazz repertoire. For Capitol she recorded Brighten the Corner, an album of hymns, Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas, an album of traditional Christmas carols, Misty Blue, a country and western-influenced album, and 30 by Ella, a series of six medleys that fulfilled her obligations for the label. During this period, she had her last US chart single with a cover of Smokey Robinson's "Get Ready", previously a hit for The Temptations, and some months later a top-five hit for Rare Earth.
The surprise success of the 1972 album Jazz at Santa Monica Civic '72 led Granz to found Pablo Records, his first record label since the sale of Verve. Fitzgerald recorded some 20 albums for the label. Ella in London recorded live in 1974 with pianist Tommy Flanagan, guitarist JoePass, bassist Keter Betts and drummer Bobby Durham, was considered by many to be some of her best work. The following year she again performed with JoePass on German television station NDR in Hamburg. Her years with Pablo Records also documented the decline in her voice. "She frequently used shorter, stabbing phrases, and her voice was harder, with a wider vibrato", one biographer wrote. Plagued by health problems, Fitzgerald made her last recording in 1991 and her last public performances in 1993.
The Manhattan Transfer
Riding a wave of nostalgia in the '70s, the Manhattan Transfer resurrected jazz trends from boogie-woogie to bop to vocalese in a slick, slightly commercial setting that balanced the group's close harmonies. Originally formed in 1969, the quartet recorded several albums of jazz standards as well as much material closer to R&B/pop. Still, they were easily the most popular jazz vocal group of their era, and the most talented of any since the heyday of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
During the early '60s.
When the group was formed in the late '60s, however, the Manhattan Transfer was a hippie cornball act similar to the Lovin' Spoonful orSpanky & Our Gang. The lone LP that appeared from the original lineup -- leader Gene Pistilli plus Tim Hauser, Erin Dickins, Marty Nelson, and Pat Rosalia -- was Jukin', assembled by Capitol. An odd and hardly successful satire record, it was the last appearance on a Manhattan Transfer album for all of the above except Hauser.
After Hauser met vocalists Laurel Masse and Janis Siegel in 1972, the trio re-formed the Manhattan Transfer later that year with the addition of Alan Paul. The group became popular after appearances at a few New York hotspots and recorded their own debut, an eponymous LP recorded with help from the jazz world (including Zoot Sims, Randy Brecker, Jon Faddis, and Mel Davis). Featuring vocalese covers of "Java Jive" and "Tuxedo Junction" as well as a Top 40 hit in the aggressive gospel tune "Operator," the album rejuvenated the field of vocalese (dormant since the mid-'60s) and made the quartet stars in the jazz community across Europe as well as America.
The Manhattan Transfer's next two albums, Coming Out and Pastiche, minimized the jazz content in favor of covers from around the music community, from Nashville to Los Angeles to Motown. A single fromComing Out, the ballad "Chanson d'Amour," hit number one in Britain. Though Masse left in 1979 for a solo career, Cheryl Bentyne proved a capable replacement, and that same year, Extensions introduced their best-known song, "Birdland," the ode to bop written by Weather Reportseveral years earlier.
Throughout the 1980s, the group balanced retreads from all aspects of American song. The 1981 LP Mecca for Moderns gained the Manhattan Transfer their first American Top Ten hit, with a cover of the Ad Libs' 1965 girl group classic "The Boy from New York City," but also included a version of Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and a surreal, wordless tribute (?) named "Kafka." (The album also earned the Manhattan Transfer honors as the first artist to receive Grammys in both the pop and jazz categories in the same year.) The production on virtually all was susceptible to '80s slickness, and though the group harmonies were wonderful, all but the most open of listeners had trouble digesting the sheer variety of material.
The group's 1985 tribute to vocal pioneer Jon Hendricks, titledVocalese, marked a shift in the Manhattan Transfer's focus. Subsequent works managed to keep the concepts down to one per album, and the results were more consistent. Such records as 1987'sBrasil, 1994's Tubby the Tuba (a children's record), 1995's Tonin' ('60s R&B), and 1997's Swing (pre-war swing) may not have found the group at their performance peak, but were much more easily understandable for what they were.
The group stayed very active and concept-heavy during the 2000s, beginning with a tribute to Louis Armstrong for 2000's The Spirit of St. Louis. They included a pair of Rufus Wainwright songs among the jazz material on 2004's Vibrate, and released An Acapella Christmas the following year. The Symphony Sessions followed in 2006, offering re-recordings of some of their best-known songs with orchestral arrangements.
In 2009, the Transfer saluted one of the biggest names in jazz with The Chick Corea Songbook, and featured contributions from Corea, Airto Moreira, Christian McBride, and Ronnie Cuber, among others. During the early 2010s, the group focused more on performing, although bothBentyne and Hauser were forced to find temporary replacements during medical procedures. After spinal surgery in 2013, Hauser returned to the group, but then died suddenly from cardiac arrest in October 2014.