So I'm sitting here listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington

…on the 1996 Verve reissue of the 1966 classic, Ella at Duke’s Place. The original release, of course, was on vinyl, and was divided into “The Pretty, The Lovely, The Tender, The Hold-Me-Close Side,” and “The Finger Snapping, Head-Shaking, Toe-Tapping, Go-For-Yourself Side.” I’m listening to the latter.

I’m listening to Ella’s take on the Ellington standard, Cotton Tail, a frantic, bouncy big band piece that just…absolutlely rocks. Words almost fail me.


But, you naturally say, Cotton Tail is an instrumental, so where does Ella fit in? Why, she scats her way through it, of course. God, can this woman sing. She trades off licks with saxophonist Ben Webster for easily half the song. You can tell the whole band is loose, smiling, and having a great time. Ella follows Ben into a descending cascade of notes, and the joy she expresses just gives me shivers.

The brass section takes up the bridge, fast and furious. The level of musicianship is just stunning. They were playing with at least ten brass instruments, on a single take, and I swear it feels like the players are tied together with handcuffs. They riff through the complex refrain without a hitch or a misplaced note. I can’t even imagine.

Ella picks it back up for the last go-round. She solo scats, followed by sparse accents from the trumpets, and ends up the song with the big finish:


You can just see her throw her head and shoulders back to belt out that last note, a giant grin on her face, as the entire band joins her for the final percussive blast of sound.

Wow. What a singer. What a band. What a song.

I know some folks pooh-pooh Ella for not being the most emotional of singers, and I actually agree. Give me Nina Simone every time for someone who’s able to “get inside” a song, but Ella was larger than life, an icon, and her glorious, joyous voice was a force of nature.

Beautiful, heavenly stuff.

I know this is mundane and pointless, but I thought maybe some of you would appreciate where I’m coming from. The hairs on my arms are standing up.

Sounds like I’ve got some shoppin’ to do. Thanks, Ogre!

If you haven’t already got it, pick up the Complete Ella in Berlin - Mack the Knife. On the title tune, which was a hit for Bobby Darin at the time of this recording, Ella completes blows a big chunck of the lyrics but makes up her own and continues the song. A fun piece of music.

I really love Ella Fitzgerald’s work - particularly her take on My Funny Valentine (is anybody tired of my saying that yet? Too bad). Her control and diction were great, and she could wrap her arms around a ballad with the best. No, she didn’t wear her heart on her sleeve, but she’ll always be my favorite.

Nina Simone’s “Live at Town Hall” is certainly worth picking up if you don’t have it.

OK, maybe she wasn’t the most emotional singer, but I sure as hell get emotional everytime I hear her crooning “You’re Blase”,“Foggy London Town” or any of a hundred others. I have only three albums with her on them, not even her own albums, but I was priviledged to see her once in concert, and I have never been more moved or touched by any vocalist. She’s number one in my book, and always will be.

In my mind there is no better voice than Ella. I love Billie, I love Nina, ditto on Carmen and all the others but Ella had the purest voice.

She can sing with them all, but personally I like her singing with Chick Webb. It was more alive, more vibrant more “on the edge”, I guess.

Still I like her singing the standards too, You’re an Old Smoothie or *Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered *or A Fine Romance. It doesn’t get any better.

I just plunked in a couple of Ella CDs of my own, thanks for the idea, Ogre.

Oh, I love Ella. I checked out a cassette tape of her classics when I was like 11 (God bless my public library). The first song I listened to was “I’ve Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good).” It blew me away. I can’t even describe her voice - when I hear her, I think of something clear and pure like a shiny Windexed window, or a beautiful mountain lake. Something perfect and shining and as wondrous as a first kiss. I get goose bumps whenever I hear her voice.

My all-time favorite Ella song is “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” and of course, “I’ve Got It Bad.” (The line, “He don’t love thee like he loves me - no, nobody could” kills me softly every time I hear it). I have six Ella albums, and I love each and every one like a child.

I have to admit I love Billie even more (“These Foolish Things” is going to be the first dance at my wedding, if I ever get married). I love every album of hers right up to Lady in Satin. “You’ve Changed” on that album breaks my heart. I love Billie for her raw emotion, but Ella has the most beautiful voice of all.

I have one Ella + Duke 3-CD collection called “Ella Fitzgerald sings the Duke Elington song book”. Some real good stuff there, including what is possibly the fastest version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” that I’ve ever heard. You can just hear the musicians pushing each other to their limits. It’s simply wonderful.

Man I have to get that record. I’ve had this recommended to me many times. To do this weekend…