This month, JazzSet is celebrating ten years with host Dee Dee Bridgewater with three shows that feature her onstage: the Women in Jazz All-Stars, Ella!, and next week, her duets with the five young, prodigious finalists in the American Pianists Association competition for the 2011 Cole Porter Fellowship.
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. Today's Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, conducted by Antonio Hart, is the house band on the special Ella! edition of JazzSet.
In the early 1980s, Siegel and her longtime quartet Manhattan Transfer sang with 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.
As Bridgewater is on stage, WBGO's Rhonda Hamilton guest hosts.
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. 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.