Welcome to the second part of the Ella Fitzgerald story by my friend and wonderful guest contributor William Price King. William has been an International performer, composer and musician for over 30 years and has sung all the Jazz standards made so famous by the Jazz Royalty. He is on a Summer break at the moment and so I am repeating some of the earlier series for those of you who might have missed them.
Ella Fitzgerald rightly holds the crown as Queen of Jazz and her contribution to music was mirrored by her influence not only for women’s rights but also the civil rights movement during the 50s and 60s. Last week we looked at her early life and performances and now we move into the 40s and 50s.
The story continues…
Last week we looked at Ella’s early start in life that was filled with many challenges. However, following her win in a talent contest in 1935 and her subsequent collaboration with drummer and band leader Chick Webb, her career went from strength to strength.
The New York Times later wrote that Chick was, “reluctant to sign her….because she was gawky and unkempt, a ‘diamond in the rough’.” But, he offered her the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University. She began singing regularly with his orchestra throughout 1935 at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom and Ella recorded several hit songs with them, including “Love and Kisses” But it was her 1938 expanded version of the 19th century nursery rhyme, “A Tiskit a Taskit,” a song she co-wrote with Al Feldman (later known as Van Alexander) that brought her wide public acclaim.
Chick Webb died in June 1939, and his band was renamed Ella and her Famous Orchestra with Ella taking on the role of nominal band leader. She recorded nearly 150 songs with the orchestra before it broke up in 1942 and Ella began her solo career. Her first signing was with the well-established Decca label and Milt Gabler became her manager. It was a time of amazing productivity within the Jazz industry and Ella recorded with some of the most popular performers of the day including Bill Kinney & the Ink Spots. They recorded ‘I’m Making Believe” and “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”. Both of these recordings reached #1 on the US Pop Charts. Fitzgerald teamed up with The Ink Spots again in 1945 to record “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “That’s the Way It Is”.
Milt Gabler brought Ella together with Jazz Impresario and producer Norman Granz and she performed regularly with his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. Norman would eventually take over as Ella’s manager and remained so to the end of her career; she remained at Decca until signing for Verve Records the label that Norman Granz created around her. In the meantime she would record many hits for Decca in the company of the great musicians and singers of the day including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie.
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. Dizzy was a Jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer who together with Charlie Parker became a huge influencer in the development of bebop and modern jazz.
It was in this period that Fitzgerald started including scat singing as a major part of her performance repertoire. In vocal jazz, scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all. Scat singing is a difficult technique that requires singers with the ability to sing improvised melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium.
Her 1945 scat recording of “Flying Home” arranged by Vic Schoen and recorded with Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker, 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” in 1947, written in 1924 by George and Ira Gershwin for the Broadway show of the same name, was similarly popular and increased her reputation as one of the leading jazz vocalists.
On the touring circuit it was well-known that Ella’s manager felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians, regardless of their color. Norman refused to accept any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants or concert halls, even when they travelled to the Deep South. Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman’s principles barged backstage to hassle the performers. They came into Ella’s dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone. “They took us down,” Ella later recalled, “and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph.” Norman wasn’t the only one willing to stand up for Ella. She received support from numerous celebrity fans, including a zealous Marilyn Monroe. This from the Marilyn Monroe Video Archives.
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Ella later said. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”
Next week into the end of the 50s to the 70s as Ella becomes a worldwide phenomenon.
Buy Ella Fitzgerald music.
William Price King – Jazz composer, musician and singer.
William Price King is an American jazz singer, musician and composer. Originally he studied classical music and opera but over the years his style has evolved to what many refer to as the ‘sweet point’ where music and voice come together so beautifully.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Torme. His jazz album, ‘Home,’ is a collection of contemporary songs and whilst clearly a homage to their wonderful legacy it brings a new and refreshing complexity to the vocals that is entrancing.
His latest album Eric Sempe and William Price King is now available to download. The repertory includes standards such as “Bye Bye Blackbird” (a jazz classic), Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” Queen’s “The Show Must Go On”, Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and other well-known jazz, pop, and rock classics.
William and Eric Sempe have also brought their own magic to the album with original tracks such as Keep on Dreaming and Red Snow with collaboration with Jeanne King
Download the new album. http://cdbaby.com/cd/williampriceking
William is currently in France where he performs in popular Jazz Venues in Nice and surrounding area.
Connect with William
Links to website – http://www.williampriceking.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamPriceKing
Twitter – https://twitter.com/wpkofficial
Regular Venue – http://cave-wilson.com/
You can explore all of William’s series at this link:
Thanks for dropping by and I hope you have enjoyed the amazing voice of Ella Fitzgerald.. Sally