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:
- Jazz At The Santa Monica Civic '72
- Ella in London
- Sophisticated Lady
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.