It is eight years since William Price King joined Smorgasbord to share music across the genres. It is six years since we have featured the icons and delighted to showcase them again in 2022.
Last week in the Ella Fitzgerald story we discovered the delights of the eight Songbooks that Ella recorded up to 1964. This week a brief look at her appearances on the large and small screens and also her collaborations with some of the best performers of the day.
Ella Fitzgerald was an exceptional performer and this did cross over into both television and film roles in the 50s. Her manager Norman Granz was able to negotiate a role for Ella in the Jack Webb 1955 jazz film Pete Kelly’s Blues alongside Janet Leigh and Peggy Lee. This was her first film since 1942 and Ella was thrilled by the opportunity..
Unfortunately the critics where not so thrilled with the film but despite this The New York Times did offer some comfort to Ella and her fans:
“About five minutes (out of ninety-five) suggest the picture this might have been. Take the ingenious prologue … [or] take the fleeting scenes when the wonderful Ella Fitzgerald, allotted a few spoken lines, fills the screen and sound track with her strong mobile features and voice.”
At the time leading roles for African American actresses were difficult to find, but Ella appeared from time to time in cameos for St. Louis Blues in 1958 for example and on television in the 1980s drama The White Shadow.
However, she did make many guest performances with the established musical shows of the day including with one of her favourite singers Frank Sinatra. Also Andy Williams, Pat Boone, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and Mel Tormé.
She was a frequent guest on The Ed Sullivan Show and here is a wonderful performance of “Three Little Maids from School” from The Mikado and Lover Come Back to Me alongside Joan Sutherland and Dinah Shore. vintage video clips
Ella was very popular with producers when it came to television commercials and one of her longest running was for Memorex tapes. Here is a short compilation to remind us not just of her amazing voice but also those days when we all thought that cassette tapes where the last word in technology! In the original advert Ella sang and shattered a glass, when the tape was played back the recording also broke the glass, asking: “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”
There is no doubt that Ella Fitzgerald performed and often recorded with the finest musicians and singers of the day. These included Bill Kenney & The Ink Spots, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
Out of the seven songs that Ella recorded with the Ink Spots, four reached the top of the pop charts including “I’m Making Believe” for Decca Records in 1944. With hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women over in Europe this song was hugely popular and reached number one in the chart.
The three Verve Studio albums with Louis Armstrong also did very well including the last album that featured the music from the Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess. Ella also recorded with Louis on a number of records for Decca in the 50s.
Her collaboration with Count Basie pleased the critics and her 1963 album Ella and Basie! is considered to be one of the best. Here is one of the classics from the album “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” written by Harry Brooks, Andy Razaf and Fats Waller
Ella and Count Basie also collaborated on the 1972 album Jazz at Santa Monica Civic ’72, and on the 1979 albums Digital III at Montreaux, A Classy Pair and A Perfect Match.
Last week we covered the Duke Ellington Songbook but Ella and the ‘Duke‘ also worked together on the 1966 album Ella and Duke at the Cote D’Azur, and in Sweden for The Stockholm Concert 1966. Their 1965 album Ella at Duke’s Palace is also extremely well received. Here is a video of one of the live performances from Stockholm. “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)”.
One of the stars that Ella would have dearly loved to collaborate with on an album was Frank Sinatra. Despite several memorable performances by them on stage and in television specials, that was never to happen. A great shame, although thankfully we do have recorded magic available on YouTube to share, including this wonderful performance of “Can’t we be friends”.
One of Ella’s most successful joint collaborations was with Count Basie in 1974 for a series of concerts at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas which was so popular and when they transferred to Broadway for two weeks in September 1975 the show grossed a million dollars in two weeks.
Join us next week for the final part of the amazing and wonderful life of Ella Fitzgerald with some more outstanding performances.
I hope you have enjoyed this tribute to one of the icons of jazz and will join us again next week for the next part of the Ella Fitzgerald Story.
William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.
His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.
While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.
Thank you for dropping and as always William would love to receive your feedback… thanks Sally.