MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, [a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook], I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
The great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was a lot of things: iconic swing vocalist and bandleader, pioneering bebop scat singer, and elegant song interpreter. But on this program, I’m going to feature a different aspect of her career: as one of the most renowned live performers in jazz. Fitzgerald’s live sets became the stuff of legend, as she demonstrated high-wire vocal acrobatics, easy-going charm, and incredible musicianship night after night all around the world. Coming up, we’ll sample some of her best live sets from the 1940s through the 1970s, in places like Berlin, London, and the Hollywood Bowl.
It’s Live Ella!, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “GOOD MORNING HEARTACHE”
Ella Fitzgerald, live in Berlin in 1962, two years after her Grammy-award-winning live set in Berlin, with the jazz standard “Good Morning Heartache.” That comes from the album The Lost Berlin Tapes, released in 2020.
MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, “OH, LADY BE GOOD”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, I’m featuring some of the highlights of Ella Fitzgerald’s career as a live performer over the decades.
Ella Fitzgerald’s artistry as a performer was evident even in her very first public performance. It’s one of the first things we know about her! In 1934, a 17-year-old Ella Fitzgerald won the affections of the live audience at Harlem’s Apollo Theater as one of the first winners of their famed Amateur Night. This win catapulted her career, first as the singer with Chick Webb’s Orchestra and later as the leader of her own orchestra.
We don’t have any recordings of her as a live performer in the 1930s. It’s not that she wasn’t performing—she performed frequently in New York ballrooms in the 30s and in many New York theaters and night clubs in the 40s—it’s just that no one was really recording live jazz concerts regularly until the 1950s. A few live recordings exist from the 1940s. Rare record collectors may have copies of her live radio broadcasts from places like the New York’s Savoy or Roseland Ballroom, or perhaps her 1948 sessions with her husband at the time Ray Brown and his Trio from the Royal Roost.
But one of the more well-known live performances of her in the 1940s came at the end of the decade from a more revered New York performing venue, Carnegie Hall. It was one of the many Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, organized and recorded by impresario Norman Granz beginning in the mid 1940s. Granz’s big idea was that listeners around the country would love to hear the best jazz musicians perform live in some of the best concert halls in the country. He was also a huge admirer of Fitzgerald, and made her a staple of these traveling all-star jazz concerts immediately. (He eventually helped organize the majority of her future live performances over the decades—more on that later).
Let’s listen to her opening number from this 1949 Jazz At The Philharmonic concert live from Carnegie Hall. Norman Granz is the one to introduce her here on stage. This is Ella Fitzgerald with “Robbin’s Nest,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “ROBBIN’S NEST”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD AND LOUIS ARMSTRONG, “UNDECIDED”
Two of Ella Fitzgerald’s earliest live recordings, both from Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic concert series. Just now, we heard her and trumpeter Louis Armstrong in 1956 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles performing “Undecided.” Before that, Ella and pianist Hank Jones in 1949 at Carnegie Hall in New York City with “Robbin’s Nest.”
Without Norman Granz, we probably wouldn’t have this much evidence of Ella Fitzgerald as a live performer over the years. While she did perform live in the 1940s and early 1950s—she was basically inventing modern scat singing alongside the top bebop players live on stage during this time—her label Decca wasn’t encouraging live recordings. In 1953, her contract with her manager ended, and Granz took over as her manager, getting her higher profile and higher paying gigs. In 1955, her recording contract with Decca ended, and Granz again took over. He signed her to his brand new record label Verve—a label he basically shaped around her—and almost immediately began releasing full-length albums of her live sets.
Let’s hear now some tracks from these early live LPs from Ella Fitzgerald. First up, this is one of her bebop showcases from her live set at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 4, 1957. This is Ella Fitzgerald with “Airmail Special,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “AIRMAIL SPECIAL”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED”
Ella Fitzgerald, live in 1957. Just now, we heard her live at the Opera House in Chicago, part of the Jazz At The Philharmonic series that year, with Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” Before that, we heard her live at the Newport Jazz Festival, performing one of her scat showcases, “Airmail Special,” written by Benny Goodman, James Mundy and Charlie Christian.
Ella Fitzgerald’s live sets at the Opera House in Chicago and at the Newport Jazz Festival were among her only officially released live recordings in the 1950s. That is until quite recently. Just in the last few years, many of her unreleased live recordings have seen the light of day. Not only are they treasures for any fan of her work, they are also wonderful glimpses into her life and performing style during this very fruitful time for the singer. In 2017, there was the release of the album Ella At Zardi's, a recording of a small jazz set at the Hollywood nightclub Zardi’s in front of a crowd of famous friends. This was in February 1956, just days before she recorded her Cole Porter songbook album at Capitol Studios down the road.
And in June of this year [And in 2022], there was the release of Ella At The Hollywood Bowl. This recording from August 1958 features a live recreation of her recently released album The Irving Berlin Songbook, featuring full orchestrations by Paul Weston. This kind of live concert, with full orchestration and featuring songs from a recent album, was extremely rare for a jazz performer of this era.
Let’s hear a track from each of these albums now. We’ll begin at Zardi’s in 1956, a really excellent recording that just shows how great she was connecting with the crowd. This is Ella Fitzgerald with “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “OH, LADY BE GOOD”
A few more recently released live recordings of Ella Fitzgerald performing in the 1950s. Just now, we heard a 1953 recording from Tokyo, with her performing one of her signature live tunes “Oh, Lady Be Good.” Before that, Fitzgerald live at the Hollywood Bowl in August of 1958, as part of her promotion for the album The Irving Berlin Songbook. That was Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” And before that, another recording from Hollywood, this time at Zardi’s Jazzland, an intimate nightclub in 1956 with “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”
MUSIC CLIP - GENE KRUPA, “AIRMAIL SPECIAL”
We’ll have more live Ella Fitzgerald after a short break, including some of her work in the 1960s and 70s. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - TEDDY WILSON, “I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE”
MUSIC CLIP - KENNY DORHAM, “MACK THE KNIFE”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been listening to some live recordings of the great Ella Fitzgerald this hour. Throughout the 1950s, her reputation as a live performer was growing, but it reached its peak in the 1960s.
Part of this came from a landmark album called Ella In Berlin, featuring the singer performing in Berlin’s Deutschlandhalle in February 1960. It was one of her best live sets and the album won several Grammy Awards, including Best Female Vocal Performance. However, ironically, one of the reasons this album became so famous is because on it, Fitzgerald makes a mistake.
In addition to her slate of greatest hits—”Airmail Special,” “How High The Moon,” “Oh, Lady Be Good”—plus her collection of beloved jazz standards —”Summertime,” “The Lady Is A Tramp,” etc.—Ella was known for taking requests and incorporating the latest hits onto her live sets. As a result of these last-minute additions, she occasionally forgot the words. But being a keen improviser, she was able to take these memory lapses in stride, and still transform it into a great performance.
Let’s hear her most famous version of this phenomenon. Here, Fitzgerald is performing a song that was likely known to her German audience in Berlin, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Mack The Knife.” The song premiered in Berlin in 1928, in its original German, as part of the stage show The Threepenny Opera. By 1960, the song had become famous again, this time in English, thanks to a hit version by pop singer Bobby Darin that rose up the pop charts.
Here is Ella Fitzgerald live in Berlin in 1960 with her famous version of “Mack The Knife,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “MACK THE KNIFE”
Ella Fitzgerald with her Grammy-Award-winning live performance of the Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, and Marc Blitzstein song “Mack The Knife,” performed live in Berlin in 1960.
After the success of the album Ella In Berlin, Ella Fitzgerald continued to be in demand as a live performer all around the world. With these live sets often came live concert LPs, including (in the 1960s) recordings of her in Hollywood, Hamburg, Stockholm, and the French Riviera.
Let’s hear a brief highlight of some of these 1960s live sets. This next performance took place at the Jazz à Juan festival, an annual jazz fest in the small French Riviera town of Juan-Les-Pins. Ella played there (and was recorded there) several times. This comes from the 1964 festival, featuring Fitzgerald with pianist Tommy Flanagan. This is Ella Fitzgerald with “Summertime,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “SUMMERTIME”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD AND DUKE ELLINGTON, “SATIN DOLL”
Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington live in Stockholm, Sweden in 1966 with “Satin Doll.” Before that, we heard Fitzgerald live in Juan-Les-Pins in 1964, France with “Summertime.”
That last recording from Stockholm in 1966 was not released in 1966. Rather it came out on the Pablo Record label in 1984. Pablo Records was another venture by Ella Fitzgerald’s manager Norman Granz. Fitzgerald had been on Granz’s label Verve in the 1950s and early 1960s. However Granz sold the label in 1960, and by the end of that decade, Fitzgerald had been dropped by the new owners. She bounced around to a few other labels for a while, creating some somewhat disappointing recordings. However, during this time, she continued to perform live in concert to increasingly enthusiastic audiences.
Granz was still her manager, and as he had been doing for over 15 years at this point, he continued to organize and record her live sets. In 1972, he self-published a recording of Fitzgerald with pianist Tommy Flanagan and Count Basie’s Orchestra from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Based on the success of these sales, Granz re-entered the record label business and founded Pablo Records, named after his favorite artist Pablo Picasso. For the next 15 years, Pablo began releasing new and archived live recordings of Fitzgerald from all around the world.
Thanks to Granz’s efforts, these live recordings continued to be released even after Fitzgerald’s death in 1996. We’re running low on time this hour, and so I won’t be able to feature much more of her work in the 1970s and beyond. We’ll have to save it for another program.
But we do have time to hear from a few of her 1970s sets, released on the Pablo label. First, we’ll take you to that concert in Santa Monica in June of 1972. This is Ella Fitzgerald and Tommy Flanagan with “Little White Lies,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “LITTLE WHITE LIES”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “HAPPY BLUES”
Ella Fitzgerald live at Ronnie Scott’s in London in 1974 with a bit of “Happy Blues,” her closer from that set. Before that, Ella live in Santa Monica in 1972 with “Little White Lies.”
We’ll go out with a little bit of Fitzgerald’s rendition of “How High The Moon” live from Berlin in 1960, one of her signature live tunes. Thanks for tuning in to this “Live Ella” edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - ELLA FITZGERALD, “HOW HIGH THE MOON”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow