First Lady of Song
Cover Photo Courtesy: The Rhythm Nucleus
Known as the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald set the standard for vocal jazz while breaking down racial and gender boundaries in the music world for over three decades. I first listened to Ella when I was about four years old, and I remember being absolutely enthralled by her rendition of “Misty.” There was a true and genuine magic to her voice, an “it” factor that many artists seek to possess today.
As an ardent fan of the singer, I have compiled what I believe to be the perfect “Ella” playlist, a journey from the sultry to the improvisational. I hope you come to appreciate this amazing musician as much as I do.
Like many jazz songs, love is the basis for the mental anguish of the singer. Ella perfectly conveys a combination of juvenile feelings and a deeper loneliness she’s grown accustomed to. A must-listen when starting your Ella journey.
The first lady begins with traditional scat singing, an improvisational sneak peak utilizing melody and horn-like sounds. More fast paced, yet still ballad-y, this song is a wonderful combination of the soulful and energetic.
This song holds a special place in my heart, being the first jazz song I performed live at the Stanford Jazz Institute last summer. Sometimes I get tired of this rendition, but I’ve come to believe that this is one of Ella’s best works. Her voice quality and purity of sound still strikes an emotional chord in the hearts of listeners today.
“Somewhere there’s heaven, it’s where you are, somewhere there’s music, how near how far.” This catchy melody is definitely one of my favorite swing tunes, and I love how she speeds up in the middle of the song and completely starts improvising with the words.
In her duet with trumpet virtuoso Louis Armstrong, Ella truly made this song a classic. When they start to play off each other, Louis’s rough, gravely voice complements the flighty yet deep tone of Ella. The duet definitely adds a texture to Ella’s work that marked a life long collaboration with the jazz trumpeter.
As I listen to Ella scat and harmonize with Louis, I realize the lasting impact of her song. While revolutionizing female jazz singing, she brought a fresh originality that comes with the art of improvisation that continues to inspire artists today. I know that my defining moment of Ella will always be when I heard her rendition of “Misty.” Something about her velvety voice, the way she haunted me with the intangible sparkle few musicians can bring to the heart and soul of the listener — no matter your musical preferences or tastes, her musical genius stands the test of time as a legend.