April 6, 2017 by Helen Borgers

April 25th, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of “The First Lady of Song,” 13-time Grammy winner, Ella Fitzgerald. In celebration of this monumental landmark in jazz history, KJazz is offering a unique sample of Ella’s recordings on an iPod Nano, which also features the music of three other giants whose centennials occur this year (Thelonious Monk, born October 10, 1917; Dizzy Gillespie, born October 21, 1917; and Mongo Santamaria, born April 7, 1917).  There are 34 titles in the Ella collection on this iPod Nano. These CDs represent a great overview of Ella’s career, with some rare gems along with some of her biggest hits.  I’ve selected just a few to highlight here.


To begin with, there’s the Ken Burns Jazz volume of Ella, which includes some of her earliest recordings, such as the 1936 “Vote for Mr. Rhythm,” with Chick Webb and his Orchestra. Among others, that band featured Louis Jordan on alto saxophone. Yes! The same Louis Jordan that inspired Chuck Berry, and went on to great fame as “The King of the Jukebox,” regularly topping the charts with hits like “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” and “Let the Good Times Roll.” The music director and lead trumpeter for Chick Webb was the man credited with bringing Ella into the band. . . Mario Bauzá. Bauzá was an Afro-Cuban jazz musician who was one of the first to introduce Latin music to the New York jazz scene. It was Bauzá who introduced Chano Pozo to Dizzy Gillespie, and brought the young timbalero, Tito Puente, to Machito.


Also in the Ken Burns collection is "A-Tisket, A-Tasket” – Ella’s own adaptation of a turn-of-the-century nursery rhyme, which became a huge hit in 1938, eventually selling a million copies. When Chick Webb died in 1939, Ella became the band’s leader, and a year later she was voted the number one female vocalist in the polls of Down Beat and Metronome magazines.


One of Ella’s earliest recorded ventures into scat singing and bebop was 1945’s recording of “Flying Home,” based on Illinois Jacquet's tenor solo on Lionel Hampton's recording of the song. You’ll also find this in the Ken Burns collection, along with Ella’s swinging version of Arnett Cobb’s tune, “Smooth Sailing.”


There are 18 tracks in this Ken Burns collection, including a great 1963 rendition of “Shiny Stockings” with Count Basie and his Orchestra, arranged by the young Quincy Jones, and a 1957 Jazz at the Philharmonic jam on “Oh, Lady Be Good,” with Roy Eldridge on trumpet, J. J. Johnson on trombone, Sonny Stitt on alto, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Flip Phillips, and Lester Young on tenors, with Oscar Peterson, piano, Herb Ellis, guitar, Ray Brown, bass, and Connie Kay on drums!

There is also a terrific version of “Night and Day,” with Ella singing with Buddy Bregman’s orchestra. That band had a stellar line-up, too, including Pete Candoli, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Maynard Ferguson on trumpets, Herb Geller, Bud Shank, and Bob Cooper on reeds, Paul Smith on piano, and Barney Kessel, guitar … just to name a few!


Pianist Paul Smith spent eleven years with Ella, and is well represented in the recordings on this Centennial iPod Nano. He was also an April baby, born on the 17th in San Diego, living most of his 91 years in southern California. He was the pianist and music director for The Steve Allen Comedy Hour for 25 years, performed with everyone from Tommy Dorsey to the Beatles, and was the house pianist at the Velvet Turtle in Long Beach for years! But he may be best remembered for having accompanied Ella on one of her most popular recordings, Ella in Berlin.


This album, recorded live in Germany in 1960, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance." Ella’s performance of “How High the Moon” at this concert, during which she quotes Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” is considered one of the best of her recorded scat solos. This album also features her infamous recording of “Mack the Knife,” during which she forgot the lyrics and improvised her own, resulting in her winning the Best Female Vocal Performance (Single) and the Best Vocal Performance, Female (Album) at the 3rd Annual Grammy Awards.


Paul Smith and Lou Levy shared the piano duties when Ella performed at the Crescendo in Hollywood in 1961 and ’62. Those performances were recorded live, and some of the tracks from the first ten nights were released as Ella in Hollywood in 1961. The two nights in 1962 were not released until all the tracks from all twelve nights came out in 2009 as Twelve Nights In Hollywood . . .all of which are included in the KJazz Centennial iPod.


The Crescendo was co-owned by KFWB disc jockey (and ABC TV personality) Gene Norman and Chuck Landis, until Norman bought out Landis. Norman is quoted as saying, “The biggest salary paid was to Ella Fitzgerald. Ten thousand a week. And we made a little money with that. She used to pack the joint.” Petty impressive, especially when you consider that Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Oscar Brown, Jr., Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, and more played there regularly. (It was also a regular spot for now-legendary comics, such as Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Lord Buckley, Tom Lehrer, Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx, Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, and the late Don Rickles.)


Another of Ella’s albums that wound up in the Grammy Hall of Fame due to its “qualitative or historical significance” was her 1958 collaboration with Louis Armstrong on the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. . . which is also on the iPod Nano, along with a set called The Best of Ella Fitzgerald  & Louis Armstrong, which has tracks with the duo singing with the swingingest rhythm section ever: Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; and Louie Bellson, drums.


And speaking of collaborations, there are two with Duke Ellington in our Centennial collection. One is Ella joining Duke’s Orchestra in the studio, singing from The Very Best of the Duke Ellington Songbook. This collection also includes some tasty small group sessions, led by Ben Webster, with a couple of guest spots by violinist Stuff Smith.  It also features an exciting rendition of “Take the A Train,” with the orchestra, Ella, and guest, Dizzy Gillespie.


The other collection with Duke was the result of a European tour they did in 1966, Ella and Duke at the Cote D'Azur. Originally released as a 2-LP set, it was reissued as a 2-CD set in 1997, with bonus tracks. It is this 1997 version that is included on our iPod Nano. It is some of the most exciting live music I have ever heard on record. It electrified me when I was a kid, both the vocal and instrumental performances. Even the ballads are charged with energy. It has my absolute favorite version of “Misty.” Not to mention the swingin’ “Lullaby of Birdland” and the pyrotechnic “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”


As I remarked before, there are 34 titles (some are two or more CDs worth of music) – just in the Ella Fitzgerald part of this 4-part Centennial iPod Nano. There are many more treats from Monk, Diz, and Mongo – many that are out-of-print and can only be found on this Centennial iPod Nano. Be sure to get yours NOW. They are only available during the KJazz Spring Membership Drive. It’s available as a thank-you gift when you donate $62.50 a month, or a total of $750 for the year. I urge you to make this donation on our website NOW. . .before these iPod Nanos are gone forever!








On-air personality, Helen Borgers, can be heard on KJazz 88.1 FM from 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. As a jazz broadcaster, Helen has been invited to give pre-concert lectures at various performing arts centers, served on panels in jazz conventions all over the world, and lectured about the history of jazz in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. She has also written articles for international jazz publications and regularly emcees concerts, festivals, and club dates throughout southern California.

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