Ella Fitzgerald

~ Person


Unique in her class, unsurpassed scat singer, one of the major interpreters of the Great American Songbook, gifted with an almost perfect voice, wide range and perfect elocution, Ella Fitzgerald was given many jazz royal titles and deserved many superlatives to describe the six decades long career of the most important jazz singer ever.

The First Lady of Song went through a four parts career (The Early Years, The Verve Era, The Errant Years, Pablo) that was tensed by her desire to achieve popular success through pop music (and other goût du jour attempts) while being deeply born to swing and scat.

Traditionally, grumpy criticism disregard the Decca years for being pre-mature, the Errant Years being simply ignored, and the Pablo years being these of the decline.
This lecture universally considers the Verve period as the best, some going as far as qualifying it as a "Major American Cultural Event" (at least the Songbook part of it, often politicized as a "black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians" - Frank Rich, New York Times, 19 Jun 1996).
While the Verve years indeed deserve to be recognized as a seminal achievement, both the Decca and Pablo eras are unfairly disregarded and many singers could have made an entire career out of any part of it.
Even the ignored Errant Years (may) reveal (one or two) gems for these adventurous enough to dig it.

Though, each of these periods have different densities, moods and styles, making them more fit to one or another category of listeners.

Listening suggestions for newcomers

Listening suggestions for amateurs

To cover the Errant Years:

  • 30 by Ella

To cover the Pablo Years:

People looking for more indepth information check the wiki page

The Early Years, Part 1: the Chick Webb Orchestra (up to 1941)

It all began with a swing big band formation housing the Savoy - The Chick Webb Orchestra, with numerous (unrecorded) live performances and a number of Decca, Victor and Brunswick singles, among which the big hit A-Tisket, A-Tasket.
Tags: Swing, Big Band
Relevant collaborations:

  • The Chick Webb Orchestra
  • Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra
  • Ella Fitzgerald and Her Savoy Eight

The Early Years, Part 2: Decca Pop Hits (1941-1955)

After Webb death, Fitzgerald notoriety being firmly established, Decca arranged for her a serie of novelty team-ups with various vocal formations (Louis Jordan, The Four Keys...).
Tags: Vocal, Pop
Relevant collaborations:

  • Ella Fitzgerald & The Song Spinners
  • Ella Fitzgerald & The Ink Spots
  • Ella Fitzgerald & The Mills Brothers
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Delta Rhythm Boys
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Buddy Rich
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan

Stompin' at Verve, Part 1: Norman Granz (1955-1961)

Under Granz management, Fitzgerald leaves Decca for the newly created Verve and much more ambitious music (both more jazz oriented material, and the famous Songbook serie).
Tags: Great American Songbook, Jazz, Symphonic, Vocal
Relevant collaborations:

  • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Stompin' at Verve, Part 2 (1961-1967)

Though Granz sold Verve to MGM, Fitzgerald line remained unchanged. Touring extensively (reported to be on stage 40 to 45 weeks per year), this period produced a number of highly regarded live shows.
Tags: Bebop, Jazz, Scat
Relevant collaborations:

  • Duke Ellington & Ella Fitzgerald

The Errant Years: Atlantic, Reprise, Capitol (1967-1970)

While Verve was falling apart under MGM loosy management, they forgot to renew Fitzgerald contract who find her in a position to negotiate with other labels. During this period she will wander through various ventures, and tried a number of off-jazz experiments (Christmas songs, pop, acid rock and country attempts) which while possibly giving her some material comfort weren't exactly a musical success.
Tags: Pop, Country, Acid-rock, Christmas, Christian, Vocal

Pablo, Part 1: Back to Granz (1970-1983)

Granz was back in the business, with a (yet) confidential label (Pablo), and Fitzgerald was back onto being exigent at her musical career: the success of the Jazz at Santa Monica Civic '72 release settled their reunion that would last nearly two decades, and produce a number of important live and studio recordings (though, obviously, during the later part of it Ella health declining impacted on her singing).
Tags: Jazz, Bebop, Scatt, Big band, Duets
Relevant collaborations:

  • Ella Fitzgerald & The Count Basie Orchestra
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Oscar Peterson
  • Ella Fitzgerald & André Previn

Pablo, Part 2: The Final Years (1984-1993)

Now in the final decade of her long career, Fitzgerald suffers more and more from her bad health. She rapidly loose her sight, and is diagnosed with diabetes.
She then suffered coronary surgery in 1986 (though she will continue to perform afterward up to 1992) and amputation of both legs in 1993, an operation she will never recover from.
She died in 1996, 79 years old.

This period is sparsely documented. Though there exists a number of lives performances, they are unissued (it's unknown what Concord is still hiding in Pablo vaults).
Norman Granz sold Pablo in 1987 - still, the label will release a very last studio album, and Ella will guest overdub on a Quincy Jones concept album.

Annotation last modified on 2007-12-16 22:33 UTC.


Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) was an American jazz singer often referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz and Lady Ella. She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

After tumultuous teenage years, Fitzgerald found stability in musical success with the Chick Webb Orchestra. Performing across the country but most often associated with the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Fitzgerald's rendition of the nursery rhyme "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" helped boost both her and Webb to national fame. Taking over the band after Webb died, Fitzgerald left it behind in 1942 to start a solo career that would last essentially the rest of her life.

Signed with manager and Savoy co-founder Moe Gale from early in her career, she eventually gave managerial control for her performance and recording career to Norman Granz, who built up the label Verve Records based in part on Fitzgerald's vocal abilities. With Verve she recorded some of her more widely noted works, particularly her interpretation of the Great American Songbook.

While Fitzgerald appeared in movies and as guests on popular television shows in the second half of the twentieth century, her musical collaborations with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and The Ink Spots were some of her most notable acts outside of her solo career. These partnerships produced recognizable songs like "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Cheek to Cheek", "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall", and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)". In 1993, Fitzgerald capped off her sixty-year career with her last public performance. Three years later, she died at the age of 79, following years of decline in her health. After her passing, Fitzgerald's influence lived on through her fourteen Grammy Awards, National Medal of Arts, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and tributes in the form of stamps, music festivals, and theater namesakes.

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Year Title Artist RatingReleases
1955 Lullabies of Birdland Ella Fitzgerald 3
1956 Ella and Louis Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong 3.35 7
1956 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book Ella Fitzgerald 8
1957 Porgy & Bess Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong 7
1957 Ella and Louis Again Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong 4 5
1957 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book Ella Fitzgerald 5
1957 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Gershwin Song Book, Volume 1 Ella Fitzgerald 1
1957 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Song Book Ella Fitzgerald 6
1958 Ella Swings Lightly Ella Fitzgerald 2
1958 The Irving Berlin Songbook Ella Fitzgerald 4
1959 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook Ella Fitzgerald 5 6
1959 Get Happy! Ella Fitzgerald 2
1959 Sings Sweet Songs for Swingers Ella Fitzgerald 2
1960 Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas Ella Fitzgerald 4
1960 Hello Love Ella Fitzgerald 2
1960 Let No Man Write My Epitaph Ella Fitzgerald 2
1961 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book Ella Fitzgerald 4
1963 Ella and Basie! Ella Fitzgerald & The Count Basie Orchestra 4
1963 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook Ella Fitzgerald 4
1963 Ella Sings Broadway Ella Fitzgerald 2
1963 These Are the Blues Ella Fitzgerald 3
1964 Hello, Dolly! Ella Fitzgerald 2
1965 Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Song Book Ella Fitzgerald 4
1966 Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald 1
1966 Whisper Not Ella Fitzgerald 2
1967 Brighten the Corner Ella Fitzgerald 3
1968 30 by Ella Ella Fitzgerald 3
1968 Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas Ella Fitzgerald 6
1968 Misty Blue Ella Fitzgerald 2
1969 Ella Ella Fitzgerald 3
1972 Ella Loves Cole Ella Fitzgerald 1
1974 Take Love Easy Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass 3
1976 Ella and Oscar Ella Fitzgerald & Oscar Peterson 6
1976 Fitzgerald and Pass... Again Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass 3
1978 "Fine and Mellow": Ella Fitzgerald Jams Ella Fitzgerald 3
1978 Dream Dancing: Ella Fitzgerald & Cole Porter Ella Fitzgerald 3
1978 Lady Time Ella Fitzgerald 2
1978 Sings Christmas Ella Fitzgerald 2
1982 A Classy Pair Ella Fitzgerald & The Count Basie Orchestra 3
1983 Speak Love Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass 3
1983 The Best Is Yet to Come Ella Fitzgerald 2
1986 Easy Living Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass 5
1987 Nice Work If You Can Get It Ella Fitzgerald & André Previn 2
1989 Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! Ella Fitzgerald 4
1989 Ella / Things Ain't What They Used to Be (and You Better Believe It) Ella Fitzgerald 1
1989 All That Jazz Ella Fitzgerald 2
1991 Like Someone in Love Ella Fitzgerald 1
1991 Ella abraça Jobim: Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Antonio Carlos Jobim Song Book Ella Fitzgerald 3
1993 Ella Swings Brightly With Nelson Ella Fitzgerald 1
1993 Ella Swings Gently With Nelson Ella Fitzgerald 1

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