article by Tom Vitale via npr.org
Ella Fitzgerald, who would have turned 100 today, was one of the most beloved and versatile singers of the 20th century. In a career that spanned six decades, Fitzgerald recorded hundreds of songs, including definitive versions of many standards. Along the way, she influenced generations of singers.
But the first thing that strikes you about Fitzgerald is that voice.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, who won a Grammy last year for Best Jazz Vocal Album, says a combination of qualities made Fitzgerald’s voice unique. “When you hear the tone of her voice — which has kind of a brightness, kind of a breathiness, but it also has this really great depth, and kind of a laser-like, really clear quality to it — it hits you,” she says.
Salvant, 27, says she learned to sing jazz standards by listening to Fitzgerald’s versions.
“I remember being 17 and living in France and feeling really homesick and wanting to go back to Miami, and listening to Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,’ ” Salvant says. “And I would listen to that all day. All day. For, like, weeks. And it felt — it created a home for me.”
Fitzgerald had perfect pitch, impeccable diction and a remarkable sense of rhythm. And it all came naturally to her, as she told the CBC in 1974. “What I sing is only what I feel,” she said. “I had some lady ask me the other day about music lessons and I never — except for what I had to learn for my half-credit in school — I’ve never given it a thought. I’ve never taken breathing lessons. I had to go for myself, and I guess that’s how I got a style.”
That style was an immediate hit. Fitzgerald was discovered at an amateur contest and began her professional career when she was only 16, singing with the Chick Webb Orchestra at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. When she was 21, she became internationally famous with a hit record based on a nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
Tony Bennett says that when he was starting out as a young singer, Ella Fitzgerald was his idol. “She was a complete swinger,” he says. “She just understood the whole art of jazz phrasing.”
“She loved performing. She loved it. And the audience knew it right away,” Bennett says. “The minute she walked out on that stage, they knew she was ready to give them the best she could ever imagine for them. She couldn’t wait to get on that stage and hit the back of the house, and have them react to her right away.”
In the 1940s, Fitzgerald took part in late-night Harlem jam sessions with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Those sessions would give rise to bebop — and Fitzgerald embraced bebop scat singing, using her voice like a horn.
“She knew how to improvise better than anybody I ever listened to,” Bennett says. “Just like an instrumentalist would take a jazz solo, she would do that vocally, and it would be perfection.”
Fitzgerald toured and recorded constantly, producing one hit record after another. Music publishers wanted her to be the first to record their new songs, and she became known as “The First Lady of Song.” In the 1950s, she embarked on an ambitious recording project: eight albums of standards written by prominent American composers — including Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern and George and Ira Gershwin.
To read full article, go to: http://www.npr.org/2017/04/25/525583944/remembering-ella-fitzgerald-who-made-great-songs-greater