by John Schrieber and Ira Gitler
Somewhere in the midst of "Carnegie Hall Celebrates the Music of Frank Sinatra" last July, Jonathan Schwartz asked a logical question: "Who is the natural successor to Frank as the subject of next summer's American Popular Song Celebration?"
Why, obviously, Ella Fitzgerald, no questions asked, and let's get to work, was the answer up and down the corridors of Carnegie.
And so we did, with affection and respect and a lightheartedness that is immediately conjured up in one's mind's eye the instant the name "Ella" is spoken or thought.
She is forever, simply, "Ella."
Her art and her demeanor were pure, sweet, clear, and unintimidating. Like Sinatra, Mabel Mercer, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, and Louis Armstrong, Ella sang in a totally natural way; she respected the melody as well as the lyric. Her instrument was so extraordinary, her scat so inventive and unforced, her powerful swing so strong, and her actor's ability to tell the story of a song so honest and true that every number was a unique masterpiece.
The glory and risk of her genius were such that we will not see its like again. Happily for us, that genius was perceived and cherished early on.
I was lucky to have had the chance to work with Ella a handful of times. The Ella concert I remember most vividly and fondly occurred at Point State Park in Pittsburgh in June of 1981.
Imagine a beautiful, cloudless afternoon and 110,000 people picnicking and sunning on a perfectly green lawn. This was no symphony or big band date for Ella: she sang for 90 minutes accompanied by Paul Smith, piano; Joe Pass, guitar; Keter Betts, bass; and Bobby Durham, drums. An acre away, deep in the crowd, there was only rapt attention, thunderous applause, and big, warm smiles. No matter the size of the room, Ella made every listener feel as if she were singing to them, and, sometimes, about them.
The artists who have come together on these two nights to celebrate Ella's art and life represent a variety of ages and musical styles. They have in common a deep regard for her singular contributions to American music and a special affection for the tenderness of her personality.
I am proud that Harry "Sweets" Edison, Herb Ellis, Tommy Flanagan, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Paul Smith, and Ray Brown are an important part of the festivities this week. These jazz heroes, each a brilliant player and leader in his own right, grew up with Ella and played with her at various times over more than fifty years. Ella loved these men as friends and colleagues. The glory of Ella was underscored to me when Ray Brown, the dean of jazz bassists (and Ella's second husband), agreed to interrupt his current European tour, fly in from Frankfurt, and join us on stage on July 9.
Wonderful, seasoned, beloved singers are on hand for these concerts, each with an unmistakable voice of his or her own. Ella would have appreciated that.
Robust and wise Ruth Brown; sinuous and sophisticated Chris Connor; heart breakingly elegant Helen Merrill; swinging and smart Carol Sloane; powerful and nuanced Ernestine Anderson; supple and miraculous pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn; jazz-influenced singing sensation Jack Jones (a standout at last year's Sinatra Celebration -- remember "Luck Be a Lady"?); and glorious pop/jazz keeper of the flame Margaret Whiting are present. Each of these stars has special moments planned for us.
Terrifically talented artists a generation or so younger are well represented on these programs: John Pizzarelli, Diana Krall, Diane Schuur, Karrin Allyson, Ann Hampton Callaway, Susannah McCorkle, and Weslia Whitfield have all been touched by Ella. We are honored to feature them.
Mandy Patinkin is a fine actor and a Tony Award-winning musical theater notable. He will absolutely transform one of Ella's greatest hits. Just wait.
For writer and narrator Jonathan Schwartz, music director Mike Renzi, associate producer Frank Military, and myself, the organizing of "Carnegie Hall Celebrates the Music of Ella Fitzgerald" has been the happy collaboration of four longtime, unabashed Ella lovers.
We wish you as much pleasure listening as we have had plotting, planning, and producing this second edition of the American Popular Song Celebration.
-- John Schrieber
Ann Hampton Callaway
Harry "Sweets" Edison
United Airlines is the official airline of Carnegie Hall's "American Popular Song Celebration,"
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