The Music Of 'Ella!' On JazzSet

Apr 21, 2011

In the early 1980s, Janis Siegel and her longtime quartet Manhattan Transfer sang with Ella Fitzgerald. Later, describing the rehearsal to NPR's Susan Stamberg, Siegel remembered her awe:

We're all around the piano. We did our little four-part harmony part, and then she scatted a couple of choruses. And she turns to us and said, 'Was that all right?' And I just, I was flabbergasted. I went, it's like God asking angels — if he just created the world — and turning to them, saying, 'Well, what do you think?'

Siegel told Stamberg that she listens to Fitzgerald "for sheer purity of tone, musicality, playfulness, inventiveness and rhythmic virtuosity." In this concert, Siegel sings Count Basie and Nelson Riddle arrangements made for Fitzgerald and now in her collection at the Library of Congress.

In 1998, Dee Dee Bridgewater won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Dear Ella. Bridgewater brings some of those arrangements for the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band and audience to savor, including "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," Fitzgerald's first hit record in 1938. Bridgewater's personal pièce de resistance might be "Cherokee," the last number.

Ella Fitzgerald was born 94 years ago — on April 25, 1917 — in Newport News, Va. She had a hard childhood in the New York City area, at times raising herself. In 1934, her life turned a corner when she sang at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater. She joined the Chick Webb Orchestra and, although she was shy, she took it over when the leader died in 1939. As you see in the iconic, amazing photograph by William Gottlieb, Fitzgerald worked with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in the mid-1940s. Hats off to the 2010 Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, conducted with spirit by Antonio Hart.


Music director: Antonio Hart; saxophones: Sharel Cassity, Jimmy Heath, Mark Gross, Bobby Lavell, Gary Smulyan; trumpets: Gregory Gisbert, Alex Norris, Claudio Roditi, Diego Urcola; trombones: Steve Davis, Michael Dease, Jason Jackson, Jennifer Wharton; guitar: Yotam Silberstein; piano: Cyrus Chestnut; bass and executive director: John Lee; drums: Willie Jones III.


Concert creator: Kevin Struthers. Guest host: Rhonda Hamilton. Recording in the Concert Hall on Jan. 24, 2010, by Greg Hartman of Big Mo. Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos. Script by Mark Schramm. Copyright 2011 WBGO-FM. To see more, visit