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Ella Fitzgerald: 1917-1996
Ella Fitzgerald: 1917-1996
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The DECCA Years, Vol. One, 1935 - 1938
Liner notes by Will Friedwald

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1936's "Organ Grinder's Swing," Will Hudson's swing band treatment of the old children's song "I Love Coffee, I Love Tea," which would later serve as the basis for Johnny Mercer's "The Java Jive," launched the series for Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald's is by far the definitive vocal version of Will Hudson's number, already a jazz masterpiece for Sy Oliver and Jimmie Lunceford (coming soon on a GRP-Decca compact disc). Notably, Fitzgerald scats in place of the central line of the lyric ("Who's that comin' down the street / looks like Organ Grinder Pete / See his monkey on a string / Do the Organ Grinder's Swing," in case you had to know). When Fitzgerald exalts "Oh, organ! Oh, organ!" against the beat, a piece of nonsense becomes a catharsis.
45'sspaceFitzgerald had been singing with the band for three years, and Webb had been leading it for close to ten when he finally got his payoff: "A Tisket, A-Tasket." Webb's only number one record hit, and Fitzgerald's biggest seller until the mid-'40s, the song also topped the Lucky Strike Hit Parade for much of 1938. According to co-composer and arranger Van Alexander, the original concept had been Fitzgerald's. Al Feldman, as he was known before he de-semitized his name, had been a musically-minded "cat" who hung out at the Savoy initially as a dancer, and one day summoned the nerve to present himself to Webb as an arranger. Webb liked what he heard, and put him to work (on tunes like "The Dipsy Doodle"), as a staff orchestrator who also travelled with the band.
spaceWhile the band was in Boston early in 1938, Fitzgerald came to Feldman with the idea for swinging this particular nursery rhyme. However, like all on-call arrangers, Feldman was snowed under with assignments from the leader and didn't have time to work on a specialty number for anyone else. Weeks went by, and Fitzgerald kept bugging him to finish the piece, so one night Feldman forced himself to stay up until he had finished the song's original bridge, special lyrics and full band arrangement. The band tried "Tisket" out on a remote radio broadcast the next night, and it went over well, and continued to get a good reaction while the band was on the road. By the time Webb and Fitzgerald made it back to New York and recorded it, they already knew they had a potential hit on their hands.

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