It’s definitely got that swing! Pacific Symphony Pops 2017-18 season roars on with a celebration of one of the 20th century’s most iconic singers—Ella Fitzgerald, whose legacy and influence defined a classic era of jazz singing—on what would have been her 100th birthday. Discovered as a 17-year-old during a talent show at the famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem, Fitzgerald’s life in song has been captured through the bounty of her musical hits, innumerable recordings and performances made during the Big Band era. Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” the incomparable singer was the most popular female jazz vocalist in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold more than 40 million albums.
George Gershwin once said: “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”
“In the dictionary under ‘singer,’ it could simply say one word: Ella,” says Richard Kaufman, Pacific Symphony’s principal pops conductor. “There’s no one like her, and this show, as created by conductor Larry Blank, will bring all the brilliance of this legendary performer to the Pacific Symphony audience. Combine our orchestra with the music of Ella and the skill of this conductor/arranger, and you’ve got a magical night of music not to be missed.”
This very special centennial celebration—“Tribute to Ella!”—created and led by guest conductor Blank, takes place Friday-Saturday, Nov. 3-4, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Single tickets are $35-$139. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“Ella Fitzgerald was an iconic singer in her performance of the Great American Song Book,” says Maestro Blank. “She could sing the music of Gershwin, Porter and Berlin with great ease and satisfaction, and could easily swing and sing jazz idiomatically. She was really a singer for all audiences—and one who comes along once in a lifetime. Her accuracy, poise and musicianship were so well respected.”
Combining timeless classics with great performance, this concert is sure to be a thrilling musical tour de force as it shines the light on one of last century’s truly distinctive American voices. Featuring three extraordinary vocalists—Harolyn Blackwell, Aisha de Haas and Capathia Jenkins—the evening brings to life the legend responsible for making so many memorable songs uniquely her own. From sultry ballads to sweet jazz, among these are “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall,” “Satin Doll,” “How High the Moon,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”—and so many others.
“Pacific Symphony’s audience can expect all the best of Ella from the three talented artists featured on this concert, the great musicianship and the incredible songs from the Great American Songbook,” continues Blank. “They will be thoroughly entertained as we celebrate her remarkable contribution, which kept this great music in our ears and in our lives. It’s a reason to celebrate. And what better celebration than the centennial of her birth?”
After Fitzgerald’s big break at the Apollo, she remarked: “Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience. I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.” Fueled by enthusiastic supporters, Fitzgerald began entering (and winning) every talent show she could find. In early 1935, she won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. It was there that she first met drummer and bandleader, Chick Webb. He offered her the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University, and so began a key relationship for the young singer.
In mid–1936, Ella made her first recording, “Love and Kisses,” which was released to moderate success. By then, she was performing with Webb’s band at Harlem’s prestigious Savoy Ballroom, referred to as “The World’s Most Famous Ballroom.” Shortly afterward, she began singing a rendition of the song, “(If You Can’t Sing It) You Have to Swing It.”
During this time, the era of big swing bands was shifting, and the focus was turning more toward bebop. Ella played with the new style, often using her voice to take on the role of another horn in the band. It was one of the first times she began experimenting with scat singing, and her improvisation and vocalization thrilled fans. Throughout her career, Ella would master scat singing, turning it into an art form. In 1938, at the age of 21, Ella recorded a playful version of the nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” The album sold one million copies, hit number one, and stayed on the pop charts for 17 weeks. Suddenly, Fitzgerald was famous.
An artist of exceptional versatility, Fitzgerald came to perform at top venues all over the world, packing them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common—they all loved her. The legendary singer’s voice was not only uniquely flexible, but also wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing searing ballads, compelling jazz, and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman.
By the 1990s, Ella had recorded more than 200 albums. In 1991, she gave her final concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, her 26th performance there. From her early days on Harlem streets, where she endured poverty, homelessness and discrimination, to the upper stratosphere of musical fame, Fitzgerald’s life was the quintessential American success story. Through 58 years of performing, many Grammys and countless records sold, she elevated swing, bebop and ballads to their highest potential. She was, undeniably, the Queen of Jazz.
Mel Tormé described Fitzgerald as “the High Priestess of Song,” Pearl Bailey called her “the greatest singer of them all,” and Bing Crosby once said, “Man, woman or child, Ella is the greatest of them all.” John Mathis summed it up by saying: “She was the best there ever was. Amongst all of us who could sing, she was the best.”
Relive the magic when the Symphony recreates the wonder and awe of this extraordinary singer’s songbook and distinctive style during this celebration of the legend. The Symphony’s Pops series receives support from The Westin South Coast Plaza, K-Earth 101 and PBS SoCal.
This article was released by the Pacific Symphony.