2017 is the 100th birthday year of several jazz immortals – among them Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and, today, Ella Fitzgerald.
As a young and naïve jazz fan in the 1960’s, like Louis Armstrong, Ella seemed “square” to me – her voice too sweet and happy for my ears, especially when compared to the singer who most moved my soul to discover more of the music, Billie Holiday. Plus, the Songbook series she became internationally famous for seemed too smartly packaged, slick in a Madison-Avenue-way that tore me away from the bins that stocked her record albums.
Over the years, however, I eventually came to appreciate and cherish her, especially as I learned the courageous and inspirational nature of her biography, and played her recordings with Chick Webb, and dug the collaborations with the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and eventually, of course,
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“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition describes the time Ella Fitzgerald chose to pass on an opportunity to meet Pablo Picasso. […] Continue reading »
In honor of the late jazz photographer Lee Tanner, Jerry Jazz Musician presents a number of editions of “Master of Jazz Photography,” featuring a work by one of the photographers featured in Tanner’s book The Jazz Image.
This edition: Tad Hershorn […] Continue reading »
In November, 1946, at the height of his popularity, Dizzy Gillespie took his big band out on the road, and in 1947 hired Ella Fitzgerald to tour the South. According to Ella’s biographer Stuart Nicholson, she had been added to this tour in response to Gillespie’s Hepsations tour in 1945, whose groundbreaking sound “had confused and confounded the southerners,” and because Ella could “create balance after the unrelieved diet of bop…The Gillespie band saw Ella as a former swing era star, light-years removed from what they were doing, a palliative to help their music go down with the public.”
Even with Ella, however, things could be challenging. The audience would “listen, stand around and applaud,” band member Howard Johnson said,” and try and pretend they dug it. I think they appreciated the artistry of Dizzy because […] Continue reading »
Joe Cocker, the flamboyant British rocker who died yesterday at the age of 70, was best known for his gravelly voice and charismatic onstage personality, but his career was especially noteworthy due to his successful model of interpreting popular songs of the day. The most obvious example -– the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” performed before hundreds of thousands at Woodstock in 1969 -– was his signature career achievement, a performance Paul McCartney yesterday called “mind-blowing,” one that he was “forever grateful for him for having done that.” One could make the case that Cocker’s appearance at Woodstock and his filmed performance of that tune was indeed a defining moment of the rock era.
Cocker also successfully remade Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me a River,” a 1953 torch song originally composed for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in Pete Kelly’s Blues, the Jack Webb film in which Peggy Lee portrayed an […] Continue reading »
Toward the end of her life, Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song,” faced several health challenges, most stemming from her battle with diabetes. The effects of the disease resulted in the amputation of her legs, and famously contributed to the debilitation of her eyesight. (Who can forget her frequent television appearances, when each successive performance seemed to bring new eye wear fashion and a more powerful eyeglass prescription). But it was her respiratory ailments and congestive heart failure that brought some of the biggest names in jazz together for a fund raiser sponsored by the American Heart Association Avery Fisher Hall in February of 1990. Hosted by Lena Horne and violinist Itzhak Perlman, “Hearts For Ella” featured a Benny Carter-led band that included […] Continue reading »
Racial harassment of touring jazz musicians was common throughout the South. Ted Hershorn, author of Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice, tells the story of a racial incident provoked by Granz’s insistence on challenging segregation in Houston. […] Continue reading »
The publication of a new biography on Carl Van Vechten has sparked a renewed interest in his work. Critic, author and patron of many a Harlem Renaissance artist, Van Vechten was also an accomplished photographer, whose work was described by a New York Telegraph reporter in 1933 as “breathtaking…each [photo] with life and sparkle, vision and intelligence.”
His access to the artists led to a portfolio of what he called “purely documentary” photographs of a “who’s who” of early-to-mid 20th Century American cultural icons — including some of the era’s finest writers and musicians. Emily Bernard, author of Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance writes that “Van Vechten always saw the act of taking a photograph as […] Continue reading »
I find comfort in a downpour.
The sound of intermittent pings
is almost a sonata, lulling me.
If Beethoven played on tin,
it would sound like the rain on my roof […] Continue reading »
She was whiskey to him.
Swirling around him.
Curving over his tongue
and into him.
The wicked spiciness burned his throat.
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