Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) is considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th Century. With a vocal range spanning three octaves, she was noted for her purity of tone, near faultless phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
Over a recording career that lasted fifty-seven years, she was the winner of thirteen Grammy Awards, and was awarded the National Medal of Art by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush.
She was also notoriously shy. Trumpet player Mario Bauza, who played behind Ella in her early years, 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 tellingly explained, "I don't want to say the wrong thing, which I always do. I think I do better when I sing."
Ella's most famous collaborations were with the trumpeter Louis Armstrong, the guitarist Joe Pass, and the bandleaders Count Basie and Duke Ellington - names all must be too familiar to us. She had a number of famous jazz musicians and soloists as 'sidemen' over her long career. The trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie, the guitarist Herb Ellis, and the pianists Tommy Flanagan, Oscar Peterson, Lou Levy, Paul Smith, Jimmy Rowles, and Ellis Larkins all worked with Ella mostly in live, small group settings.
Perhaps Ella's greatest unrealized collaboration (in terms of popular music) was a studio or live album with Frank Sinatra. Unfortunately, Ella and Frank were to appear on the same stage only periodically over the years, in television specials in 1958 and 1959, and again in 1967, a show that also featured Antonio Carlos Jobim. Pianist Paul Smith has said, "Ella loved working with [Frank]. Sinatra gave her his dressing room on A Man and His Music and couldn’t do enough for her." When asked, Norman Granz would cite "complex contractual reasons" for the fact that the two artists never recorded together. Ella's appearance with Sinatra and Count Basie in June 1974 for a series of concerts was seen as an important impetus upon Sinatra returning from his self-imposed retirement of the early 1970's. The shows were a tremendous success.
Already blinded by the effects of diabetes, Ella had both her legs amputated in 1993. In 1996 she died of the disease in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 79. Several of Ella Fitzgerald's awards, significant personal possessions and documents were donated to the Smithsonian Institution, the library of Boston University, the Library of Congress, and the Schoenberg Library at UCLA.
The following are 3 wonderful songs from the Lady. Her technical capabilities in singing her songs and emotional mastery of those tunes are truly incomparable - exquisite, sharp but immensely enjoyable:
How High The Moon
(Sung in 1966. Noticed how mesmerised the audience were. Listen till the end - it is worth your while!)
I'm Beginning To See The Light
(Sung in 1977. Dinah Shore gives a glowing intro to the "First Lady" of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, as Lucille Ball enthusiastically agrees.)
Love Is Here To Stay
(Here Ella sang a Gershwin's number: With all the best people in the business - Ella the singer, Gershwin the composer and Nelson Riddle as the arranger - what a perfect combination!)