Ella 100: Live at the Apollo!
In 1934 a 17-year old unknown by the name of Ella Fitzgerald took the stage at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem. It was Amateur Night and that nervous first performance launched a career; she’d barely need that surname after.
In 2016, to celebrate what would have been Ella’s 100th birthday an all-star cast of singers and the Count Basie Orchestra gathered to pay tribute.
That performance is now – four years on – available as a live album – arriving in time for Ella’s birthday (April 25).
What starts as your typical, shiny, smiley tribute – with co-hosts David Alan Grier and Patti Austin soon becomes a showcase for not only the remarkable songbook but for some exquisite talents – all in service to one of the towering voices in 20th Century jazz.
Lizz Wright is wonderful on The Nearness of You, the choir Afro Blue takes Oh Lady Be Good to soaring new heights and Austin totally owns How High The Moon with a terrific Ella-aping scat session mid-song.
But then it’s Cassandra Wilson – who, in a lush arrangement by the Basie Orchestra, takes Cry Me A River up the mountain to mark the evening’s true emotional peak.
Sure, sure, you don’t need any of these versions any more than you need the Ella staples. And you can access them all via the same platforms now – but let this be the staring point for rediscovering that remarkable catalogue.
To close, there’s a 1970 performance of Ella singing People live in Budapest. “People who need people” – a good way to frame this well-meaning tribute.
You don’t need this at all – but you might very well like it. And if it’s the spark to a new run through the Fitzgerald versions of so many American songbook classics, or just a timely reminder of one of the special voices that was in our world, then this live document has done its job.