Monday, December 11, 2017

Jeru's Journey by Sanford Josephson - Four Appreciations

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Jazz author Sanford Josephson “stopped by” the editorial offices of JazzProfiles recently and left off four reviews of his recent book Jeru’s Journey: The Life and Music of Gerry Mulligan. It’s a recent volume in the Hal Leonard Jazz Biography Series and you can locate more about the series and order information about the book by visiting the publisher’s website.


“Sandy” Josephson serves on the Board of the New jersey Jazz Society, is a contributing editor to Jersey Jazz Magazine, and serves as a curator of Jazz concerts and as a producer of Jazz festivals. Currently residing in West Orange, New Jersey, Sandy is also the author of Jazz Notes: Interviews Across Generations.


We thought it might be fun to represent these different points of view as part of one feature offering four appreciation of Sandy’s effort on behalf of one of the giants of Jazz in the second half of the 20th century - Gerry Mulligan.


Jersey Jazz Magazine, January 2016



BOOK REVIEW



JERU’S JOURNEY: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan
By Sanford Josephson


Hal Leonard Books, Milwaukee
214 Pages, 2015, $19.99


By Joe Lang


When thinking about the true geniuses who have graced the jazz scene, Gerry Mulligan is certainly among them.  In Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan, Sanford Josephson has produced a biography that gives a comprehensive picture of the unique person who was Gerry Mulligan, and does so in an interesting and highly readable way.


Josephson has made extensive use of quotations from the many interviews that he conducted with people who knew and/or were influenced by Mulligan; from Jeru: In the Words of Gerry Mulligan, an oral autobiography compiled with the assistance of Ken Poston, the Director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute; from Jerome Klinkowitz’s Listen: Gerry Mulligan – An Aural Narrative in Jazz; and from a variety of other cited sources.  He has provided a nicely flowing connective narrative that places these quotations in their proper chronological order and context.   


Mulligan was a multi-faceted talent.  He is regarded as one of the finest and most creative baritone saxophone players in jazz history.  His prowess as an arranger for big bands was evidenced in his contributions of the books for such leaders as Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, Elliott Lawrence and Stan Kenton, and most memorably for his own Concert Jazz Band.  Going hand in glove with his arranging was his marvelous composing facility, creating some of the most admired and played jazz standards.  He also was an outstanding leader of both small groups and big bands.


Perhaps Mulligan’s most outstanding trait was his role as an innovator.  


* His big band writing was truly original, as he was in the forefront of the transition from the swing tradition to incorporating the emerging sounds of newly developing jazz forms into a big band setting.  


* His significant contributions to the legendary Birth of the Cool, sessions recorded under the ostensible leadership of Miles Davis, were a strong element in the emergence of what was dubbed the cool school of jazz.   


* His decision to form his first pianoless quartet was not planned, but was the result of being booked into a Los Angeles jazz club, the Haig, where there was no piano.  Once he chose to proceed, he quickly embraced the possibilities afforded by the combination of two horns playing contrapuntally, bass and drums.  When he formed his Concert Jazz Band, he again went the pianoless route, and the larger ensemble incorporated much of the feeling of his quartet.  


* His Age of Steam album was perhaps the most successful incorporating of an electronic keyboard and Fender bass into an essentially mainstream jazz context.
      
Josephson addresses all facets of the professional and personal sides of Mulligan.  He deals frankly with Mulligan’s problems with drug abuse at one stage of his career.  Mulligan’s difficult relationship with Chet Baker is fully explored.  He discusses Mulligan’s romantic involvement with the actress Judy Holliday, and how that relationship led to Mulligan’s appearances in a few films where he showed a natural flair for acting.  During the years that he spent as a member of Dave Brubeck’s group in the late 1960s he was exposed to playing with a symphony orchestra, and that sparked a continuing interest in developing material that he could employ in such a setting.


The quotations chosen by Josephson, especially those from Mulligan’s recorded autobiography, provide interesting perspectives on all facets of Gerry Mulligan, both personally and professionally.  One fact that emerges consistently is the keen intelligence that he possessed.  He was able to, at every stage of his career, understand what musical paths to follow in order to advance his artistry while doing so in a manner that was accessible to his listeners.  This career lasted from his teenage years in the early 1940s when he wrote his first arrangements for a local big band in Philadelphia until November 1995 when he performed on a jazz cruise just months before his death from cancer on January 20, 1996, a period of over fifty years of musical excellence.


Josephson brings all of this together in an appropriate manner, with the last few chapters of the book summarizing his career and influence.  He includes extensive quotes from Mulligan’s peers about his artistry and commitment to the music that was at the center of his life.


With Jeru’s Journey, Josephson has presented a well-rounded depiction of a true jazz giant, one that is hard to put down once your reading commences.


ARSC Journal (Association for Recorded Sound Collections)


Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan. By Sanford Josephson. Milwaukee,
WI: Hal Leonard Books, 2015. 214pp. (softcover). Sources, Discography, Index.
ISBN 978-1-4803-6024-2


Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) is a towering figure in the history of jazz. In a career lasting
six decades, he has left his mark as an influential baritone saxophonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. His relevance and importance in jazz history is cemented by his
work with Miles Davis and the Birth of the Cool, his piano-less quartet with trumpeter
Chet Baker, and his Concert Jazz Band, all within the realm of Cool Jazz during the
1950s. However, Mulligan would go on to live until 1996, developing as an arranger and
composer, maintaining a high profile as an active performer, and leaving behind a large
body of excellent work that is obscure and more often ignored. Sanford Josephson’s new
book, Jeru’s Journey, fills in the empty gaps of Mulligan’s career and does an excellent
job at presenting a complete picture of Mulligan’s life and career without emphasizing
any particular period.


Josephson is a journalist who has written extensively about jazz musicians in publications
ranging from the New York Daily News to American Way. In his 2009 book, Jazz
Notes: Interviews Across the Generations, he collects interviews he conducted with a number of leading jazz artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, and Gerry Mulligan. He rounds off this material by speaking with contemporary musicians with connections to these legends. This is the formula followed in Jeru’s Journey (Jeru is Mulligan’s nickname), as Josephson bases his book on material from Mulligan’s recorded autobiography Jeru: In the Words of Gerry Mulligan by Mulligan and Ken Poston, and quotes from Jerome Klinkowitz’s Listen: Gerry Mulligan. Josephson then complements these with more than forty interviews with those who knew Mulligan, who played with him, and who are influenced by him. Finally, he also used material from articles, reviews, and excerpts from different publications, from doctoral dissertations to magazine articles to books. Josephson’s research methods are thorough and this book is essentially a compilation of quotes from and about Mulligan and his work.


Every part of Mulligan’s career is outlined, from his formative years moving around
from town to town to his last years in Darien, Connecticut. He began his career as an arranger and sometimes baritone saxophonist for bands as obscure as Tommy Tucker and
Elliot Lawrence and as legendary as Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, and Stan Kenton.
He met fellow arranger Gil Evans through his work with Thornhill which led to his involvement with the Birth of the Cool sessions. Josephson points out that Mulligan’s role in the famous nonet is often played down in favor of the presence and contribution of Gil Evans and Miles Davis, despite having arranged half of the material and being the only participant to continue working with the nonet’s music, either recording the material or through the arrangements of in his own Tentette from the early 1950s. Josephson makes a compelling argument for Mulligan’s achievements with numerous quotes of other musicians and critics who think the same.


Mulligan’s work in the 1950s is well documented: the formation of his piano-less
quartet with Chet Baker (later replaced by Bob Brookmeyer then Art Farmer) made
Mulligan a star and his name in the jazz world solidified. In the late 1950s, Mulligan
formed his Concert Jazz Band (which was also piano-less) as “part of a general
movement to do more obvious things with counterpoint.” With arrangements by Bob
Brookmeyer, Al Cohn, Johnny Carisi, and Bill Holman, the band recorded five albums
for Verve and disbanded by 1964. Although it was a short-lived band, its influence and
legacy are still felt, as it set the stage for the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band.
The rise of rock in the 1960s limited work and exposure for jazz musicians and so
Mulligan stopped recording regularly in 1965. His material afterwards is not as famous
and is often obscured in summaries of Gerry Mulligan. He began a brief association
with Dave Brubeck that gave Mulligan a break from leading a band and resulted in one
studio recording and two live recordings. 1971’s The Age of Steam is a radical departure
from Mulligan’s earlier works and a personal turning point. This record features a fifteen-
piece band including electric bass and electric piano and includes Roger Kellaway,
Harry “Sweets” Edison, Chuck Domanico, Bud Shank, and a young Tom Scott. 1980’s
Walk on the Water won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance and features
a rejuvenated Concert Jazz Band with Tom Harrell and Harold Danko among others.


Of particular interest amongst Mulligan’s lesser-known works are his classical compositions and performances with symphony orchestras that constituted a major part of his work in the last twenty years of his life. He was enticed by the idea of combining jazz and classical music through his time with Brubeck. Highlights of this period include a 1977 performance by the CBS Symphony Orchestra with Mulligan as guest soloist on Celebration, a symphonic work by Candian composer Harry Freedman and commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Company in honor of Mulligan’s fiftieth birthday. Later, after a chance meeting with famed conductor Zubin Mehta, Mulligan was invited to perform Ravel’s Bolero with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in May 1982. Afterwards Mulligan began work on an extended symphonic piece, Entente for Saxophone and Orchestra, completed in 1984 with performances in Italy, England, and the US.


In addition to his quartet work, Mulligan would continue to make appearances with
several other classical orchestras including the Stockholm Philharmonic, the Philadelphia
Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mulligan’s stature as a great jazz composer
who successfully crossed over into classical is well documented here and begs for this music to be heard and performed again. In 1999, three years after Muligan’s death, the Library of Congress opened an exhibition entitled “The Gerry Mulligan Collection,” featuring photographs, manuscripts, scores, and Mulligan’s gold-plated saxophone.


In addition to discussing Mulligan’s life and career, there are also a few chapters
featuring quotes from Mulligan’s sidemen that offer a different perspective of Gerry Mulligan as well as one on Mulligan’s legacy on the baritone saxophone. There is some discussion on Mulligan’s personal relationships, especially with Judy Holliday and Franca Rota, but the focus of the book is on Mulligan’s music.


Jeru’s Journey is an important addition to the history of jazz and especially towards
the scholarship of Gerry Mulligan. The book is a fairly easy read with twenty-one chapters (none longer than fourteen pages), and sixteen pages of pictures that highlight his entire life, including scans of programs featuring his compositions from his late career. While the format does get predictable, many of the interviews give a well-rounded view of Mulligan’s work. It would have been nice to directly read Josephson’s opinion on certain matters, however his reverence and respect for Mulligan’s music comes through clearly. What Josephson has done has been essentially to compile a complete picture of Mulligan’s life and career, and this is what makes Jeru’s Journey an important addition towards representing Mulligan in a broader light. Hopefully other scholars will take notice and acknowledge his other, equally important accomplishments.


Reviewed by Fumi Tomita


New Saxophone Publications
David Dempsey


Sanford Josephson. Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan (Hal
Leonard Jazz Biography Series, $19.99) Recommended for: All musicians
interested in this American musical giant, both for his playing and for his
composing and arranging.


In the pantheon of jazz, Gerry Mulligan represents not one, but two major
voices. He is not only one of the inarguably historic voices on the baritone
saxophone, but he is also a major arranger who wrote for some of the major big
bands and his own recordings, not to mention the game-changing 1949 Birth of
the Cool recording which is often credited only to Gil Evans but also featured
Mulligan’s arranging voice.


Author, producer and interviewer Sanford Josephson is also the writer of
the book Jazz Notes: Interviews Across the Generations, focusing on words from
some of the senior mentors and voices of jazz. In that way, Josephson’s adept
interview style is perfect for the format of this book, which relies heavily on
interview contributions from dozens of the great musicians who knew, worked
and collaborated with Mulligan, as well as extensive secondary quotes from
Mulligan himself. Each of the chapter titles are actually a quote from Mulligan –
evidence of the interview-based motifs.


This book is laid out in classic chronological style, but the extensive
contributions from other musicians, and Josephson’s gift for weaving them in and
out of his own elegant narrative sets this book apart. Mulligan’s many
contributions not only to jazz but to the broader scope of American music are
chronicled, along with his personal life story. A positive element in this area is
Josephson’s discussions of Mulligan’s battles with addiction – stating the facts
plainly, but without any overplaying of these literary scenes. When a biographer
puts music ahead of melodrama, concentrating on their subject’s art instead of
making a sensationalist play for extra book sales, it’s a sign of that writer’s
dedication and integrity.


Some of the highlights of the book include “Out of the Basement and…Into
a Rehearsal Hall,” the account of the aforementioned Birth of the Cool scenario
and recording sessions, conceived by a collective in Gil Evans’ West 55th St.
Manhattan apartment that included Mulligan, Evans, Miles Davis, John Lewis and
others – a remarkable group in many ways, particularly because it brought their
many interracial musical influences to the forefront.
In other chapters, “We Couldn’t Believe How Good the Band Was,” the
description of Mulligan’s 1960 Concert Jazz Band that almost bubbles with joy,
with band member bassist Bill Crow’s description of the amazing nightly interplay
with the virtuosic Clark Terry that turned every Mulligan arrangement into a
small-group adventure, with open-ended blowing sections and improvised
accompaniments. Mulligan’s years with Dave Brubeck are also described in
detail, with Mulligan’s interplay with bandleader Brubeck and the always witty
Paul Desmond. The Desmond partnership resulted in an under-recognized
masterpiece of an album, Two of a Mind with just the two saxophonists, bass and
drums.


As the book progresses into later years, increasing numbers of Mulligan’s
sidemen are interviewed in detail, including many who have gone on (not unlike
the sidemen of Mulligan’s associate Miles Davis) to become
major jazz figures themselves. Pianists Bill Charlap, Harold Danko and Bill
Mays, bassists Ron Carter, Bill Crow and Brubeck alumnus Jack Six, and
drummers Rich DeRosa and Ron Vincent all make vivid contributions. All of
these fellow musicians not only paint a clear picture of Mulligan as a person and
musician, but also of what it was like to be on the road, traveling and performing
on a nightly basis with someone of Mulligan’s demanding personality. Crow’s
and Charlap’s are particularly are particularly well-spoken and fascinating.


One of the final chapters is all Mulligan’s. In “Kings of the Baritone Sax,”
Gerry describes a number of the great musicians who he knew, including “the
king,” baritonist Harry Carney (Mulligan says Duke Ellington always introduced
him as ‘the world’s second greatest baritone saxophonist,’ a title he took
proudly), Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie and
Charlie Parker (he credits Bird’s encouragement of his playing as a great early
motivator), Woody Herman, Antonio Carlos Jobim and composer Alec Wilder.


The book concludes with a Mulligan discography, and an impressive list of
interviews that gives insight into the depth of this book. This book, and
Josephson’s obvious hard work and deep passion, are all deserved by someone
of Mulligan’s depth and importance.


This book’s Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/JerusJourney/
This book’s webpage on Hal Leonard.com:
http://www.halleonard.com/product/viewproduct.action?itemid=122921&
Purchase this book via Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Jerus-Journey-Mulligan-Leonard-
Biography/dp/1480360244/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448744939&sr=8-
1&keywords=jeru%27s+journey

The New York City Jazz Record, October 2016
Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan
Sanford Josephson (Hal Leonard)
by Ken Dryden
Gerry Mulligan’s career spanned over five decades, yet it is only now, a decade after his death, that a serious biography of the master has appeared. What Sanford Josephson manages to accomplish in a mere 180 pages is remarkable, creating a detailed portrait of the perennial poll-winning baritone saxophonist, noteworthy bandleader, composer and arranger, who also added something special to every band of which he was a part.
Josephson skillfully blends excerpts from Mulligan’s oral autobiography Jeru: In the Words of Gerry Mulligan and the video documentary Listen: Gerry Mulligan, along with the author’s own interviews with the artist and musicians who either played with or were influenced by him. If that isn’t enough, Josephson does a masterful job incorporating excerpts of reviews, articles and liner notes into his text, creating a fast-paced yet thorough history of Mulligan’s many contributions.
While Josephson explores some of the rocky points in Mulligan’s personal life, he does so without descending into tabloid territory. Mulligan changed the role of the baritone saxophone, making it a viable, melodic solo voice, ignoring the supposed limits of its lower range. Recognized for his ability to create memorable impromptu arrangements, Mulligan was also a living jazz historian, blending as well with musicians of earlier styles as those of his generation. Those who have not yet investigated his vast discography will gain a greater appreciation for his work from Josephson’s analysis of his recordings. Josephson also recognizes Mulligan’s compulsion to add background harmonies behind others’ solos to flesh out a song while his gift of creating impromptu counterpoint with Dave Brubeck, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer and others. While most of the focus is correctly on the saxophonist’s work as a leader, Mulligan was very proud of his recordings with Brubeck, with whom he served as a “special guest” for several years.
Josephson’s biography of Gerry Mulligan sets a high standard for all jazz journalists.





Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ella and Henry - Fitzgerald and Pleasants,That Is!

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


"I never knew how good our songs were," Ira Gershwin once said to George T. Simon, "until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them."


“And then there is Ella, about whom critics have surprisingly little to say, …. Her situation is not unlike that of Art Tatum — there's no way to ignore the technical and musical genius of these two, or their immense and joyous fecundity, even if you prefer your art less Olympian.”
- Henry Pleasants, The Great American Popular Singers


“She's tops! I just love her. She's Mama!”
- Jon Hendricks, Jazz vocalist


If you’ve ever wondered what made Ella Fitzgerald’s singing so singularly outstanding, you will wonder no longer after reading these excerpts about her style from Henry Pleasants, The Great American Popular Singers (1974).


“Gerald Moore, the English accompanist, tells about the time Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, following a matinee recital Moore and the German Lieder singer had given together in Washington, D.C., rushed to the National Airport and took the first plane to New York in order to hear Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald at Carnegie Hall.


"Ella and the Duke together!" Fischer-Dieskau exclaimed to Moore. "One just doesn't know when there might be a chance to hear that again!"


The story is illustrative of the unique position that both Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington occupy in the musical history of our century. More than any other artists working in the Afro-American idiom, they have caught the attention and excited the admiration of that other world of European classical, or serious, music.


Ella's achievement, in purely musical terms, is the more remarkable of the two, if only because she has never ventured into the no-man's-land of semi-classical or third-stream music separating the two idioms. Duke Ellington is a familiar figure on the stage at symphony concerts, as both pianist and composer, in his jazz-flavored symphonic suites. Ella has ranged widely between the ill-defined areas known as "jazz" and "popular," but not into classical, although she has sung the songs of the great American songwriters—Arlen, Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, for example—with symphony orchestras. Many classical singers, however, like Fischer-Dieskau, are among her most appreciative admirers.


Unchallenged preeminence in her own field has had something to do with it, along with consistent performance throughout a career that has already extended over nearly forty years. Although she has never been, in her private life, a maker of headlines, her honors have been so many that word of them has filtered through to many who never saw a copy of Billboard or Down Beat and never will.


To enumerate those honors would be tedious. Suffice it to say, citing the entry under her name in Leonard Feather's New Encyclopedia of Jazz, that, between 1953 and 1960 alone, she was placed first in Metronome, Down Beat, and Playboy polls in either the "jazz singer" or "popular singer" categories, or both, no fewer than twenty-four times. She had been a poll winner long before that — she won the Esquire Gold Award in 1946 — and she is heading the polls in both categories to this day.


With Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, she shares the distinction of having achieved a nearly universal popularity and esteem without sacrificing those aspects of her vocal and musical art that so endear her to fellow professionals and to the most fastidious of critics and lay listeners. Not even Frank and Peggy are admired so unanimously. The refinements of their art often fall on unappreciative or hostile ears. But with Ella, the exclamation "She's the greatest!" runs like a refrain through everything one reads or hears about her. One is as likely to hear it from an opera singer as from Bing Crosby ("Man, woman and child, Ella Fitzgerald is the greatest!").


Of what does her greatness consist? What does she have that other excellent singers do not have? The virtues are both obvious and conspicuous, and there is general agreement about them. She has a lovely voice, one of the warmest and most radiant in its natural range that I have heard in a lifetime of listening to singers in every category. She has an impeccable and ultimately sophisticated rhythmic sense, and flawless intonation. Her harmonic sensibility is extraordinary. She is endlessly inventive. Her melodic deviations and embellishments are as varied as they are invariably appropriate. And she is versatile, moving easily from up-tempo scatting on such songs as "Flying Home," "How High the Moon?" and "Lady Be Good" to the simplest ballad gently intoned over a cushion of strings.


One could attribute any one, or even several, of these talents and attainments to other singers. Ella has them all. She has them in greater degree. She knows better than any other singer how to use them. What distinguishes her most decisively from her singing contemporaries, however, is less tangible. It has to do with style and taste. Listening to her — and I have heard her in person more often than any other singer under discussion in these pages—I sometimes find myself thinking that it is not so much what she does, or even the way she does it, as what she does not do. What she does not do, putting it as simply as possible, is anything wrong. There is simply nothing in her performance to which one would want to take exception. What she sings has that suggestion of inevitability that is always a hallmark of great art. Everything seems to be just right. One would not want it any other way. Nor can one, for the moment, imagine it any other way.


For all the recognition and adulation that has come her way, however, Ella Fitzgerald remains, I think, an imperfectly understood singer, especially as concerns her vocalism. The general assumption seems to be that it is perfect. That she has sung in public for so many years—and still, when on tour, may do two sixty-minute sets six or seven nights a week—with so little evidence of vocal wear and tear would seem to support that assumption. Her vocalism is, in fact, as I hear it, less than perfect. "Ingenious" and "resourceful" would be more appropriate adjectives.


She has, as many great singers in every category have had, limitations of both endowment and technique. But, also like other great singers, she has devised ways of her own to disguise them, to get around them, or even to turn them into apparent assets. Ella's vocal problems have been concentrated in that area of the range already identified in the case of earlier singers as the "passage." She has never solved them. She has survived them and surmounted them.



She commands, in public performance and on record, an extraordinary range of two octaves and a sixth, from the low D or D-flat to the high B-flat and possibly higher. This is a greater range, especially at the bottom, than is required or expected of most opera singers. But there is a catch to it. Opera singers, as they approach the "passage," depress the larynx and open the throat — somewhat as in yawning — and, focusing the tone in the head, soar on upward. The best of them master the knack of preserving, as they enter the upper register, the natural color and timbre of the normal middle register, bringing to the upper notes a far greater weight of voice than Ella Fitzgerald does. Even the floated pianissimo head tones of, say, a Montserrat Caballe should not be confused with the tones that Ella produces at the upper extremes of her range.


Ella does not depress the larynx, or "cover," as she reaches the "passage." She either eases off, conceding in weight of breath and muscular control what a recalcitrant vocal apparatus will not accommodate, or she brazens through it, accepting the all too evident muscular strain. From this she is released as she emerged upward into a free-floating falsetto. She does not, in other words, so much pass from one register into another as from one voice into another. As Roberta Flack has noted perceptively: "Ella doesn't shift gears. She goes from lower to higher register, the same all the way through."


The strain audible when Ella is singing in the "passage" contributes to a sense of extraordinary altitude when she continues upward. In this she reminds me of some opera tenors who appear to be in trouble — and often are — in their "passage" (at about F, F-sharp, and G) and achieve the greater impression of physical conquest when they go on up to an easy, sovereign B-flat. The listener experiences anxiety, tension, suspense, relief, and amazement. It is not good singing by the canons of bel canto, which reckon any evidence of strain deplorable. But it is exciting, and in the performance of a dramatic or athletic aria, effective.


Both this sense of strain in that critical area of Ella's voice, and the striking contrast of the free sound above the "passage" may help to explain why so many accounts of her singing refer to notes "incredibly high." Sometimes they are. The high A-flat, A, and B-flat, even in falsetto, must be regarded as exceptional in a singer who also descends to the low D. But more often than not they sound higher than they are. Time and again, while checking out Ella's range on records, 1 have heard what 1 took to be a high G or A-flat, only to go to the piano and find that it was no higher than an E or an F. What is so deceptive about her voice above the "passage" is that the sound is high, with a thin, girlish quality conspicuously different from the rich, viola-like splendor of her middle range. It is not so much the contrast with the pitches that have gone before as the contrast with the sound that has gone before.


In purely vocal-technical terms, then, what distinguishes Ella from her operatic sisters is her use of falsetto; what distinguishes her from most of her popular-singer sisters is her mastery of it. One may hear examples of its undisciplined use in public performance and on records today in the singing of many women, especially in the folk-music field. With most of them the tone tends to become thin, tenuous, quavery, and erratic in intonation as they venture beyond their natural range. They have not mastered falsetto. Ella has. So has Sarah Vaughan. So has Ella and Sarah's admirable virtuoso English counterpart, Cleo Laine.


The "girlish" sound of the female falsetto may offer a clue to its cultivation by Ella Fitzgerald, and to some fundamental characteristics of her vocal art. It is, for her, a compatible sound, happily attuned to her nature and to the circumstances of her career. She entered professional life while still a girl. Her first hit record, "A-Tisket A-Tasket," was the song of a little girl who had lost her yellow basket. The girl of the song must have been a congenial object of identification for a young singer, born in Newport News, Virginia, who spent her childhood first in an orphanage, later with an aunt in Yonkers, New York, who drifted as a young dancer into Harlem clubs, and who fell into a singing career in an amateur contest at the Harlem Opera House when she was too scared to dance.


"It was a dare from some girlfriends," she recalls today. "They bet me I wouldn't go on. I got up there and got cold feet. I was going to dance. The man said since I was up there I had better do something. So I tried to sing like Connee Boswell — 'The Object of My Affection.'"


According to all the jazz lexicons, Ella was born on April 25, 1918, and entered that Harlem Opera House competition, which she won, in 1934, when she would have been sixteen. She became vocalist with the Chick Webb band the following year, was adopted by the Webb family and, following Chick's death in 1939, carried on as leader of the band until 1942. She would then have been all of twenty-four, with ten years of professional experience behind her.


According to Norman Granz, who has been her manager throughout the greater part of her career, she was younger than that. Granz says that she was born in 1920 and had to represent herself as older, when she first turned up in Harlem, to evade the child-labor laws. She was adopted by the Webbs because a parental consent was a legal prerequisite for employment.


It should hardly be surprising, then, that her voice, when she began with the Chick Webb band, and as it can be heard now on her early records, was that of a little girl. She was only fourteen. She was a precocious little girl, to be sure, and probably matured early, as other black entertainers did—Ethel Waters and Billie Holiday, for example—who grew up in the tough clubs and dance halls of Harlem while other girls were still in secondary school. What mattered with Ella, however, and affected her subsequent career, was that the little girl could also sound like a young woman — and was irresistible.


The sound worked, and so did the little girl. Ella has never entirely discarded either the girl or the sound. She was, and has remained, a shy, retiring, rather insecure person. To this day when, as a woman of matronly appearance and generous proportions, she addresses an audience, it is always in a tone of voice, and with a manner of speech, suggesting the delighted surprise, and the humility, too, of a child performer whose efforts have been applauded beyond her reasonable expectations.


Nor has Ella ever forsaken her roots in jazz. George T. Simon, in The Big Bands, remembers watching her at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem when she was with Chick Webb:


“When she wasn't singing, she would usually stand at the side of the band, and, as the various sections blew their ensemble phrases, she'd be up there singing along with all of them, often gesturing with her hands as though she were leading the band.”


The fruits of such early enthusiasm and practice may be heard today in Ella's appearances with the bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, when one or more instrumental soloists step forward to join her in a round of "taking fours," with Ella's voice assuming the character and color of a variety of instruments as she plunges exuberantly into chorus after chorus of syllabic improvisation (scatting).


Ella owes at least some of her virtuosity in this type of display, or at least the opportunity to develop and exploit it, to Norman Granz and her many years' association with his Jazz at the Philharmonic tours. Benny Green, the English jazz critic, thus describes the importance of this association to the shaping of Ella Fitzgerald's art and career:


“When Ella first began appearing as a vocal guest on what were, after all, the primarily instrumental jazz recitals of Norman Granz, it might have seemed at the time like imaginative commercial programming and nothing more. In fact, as time was to prove, it turned out to be the most memorable manager-artist partnership of the post-war years, one which quite dramatically changed the shape and direction of Ella's career. Granz used Ella, not as a vocal cherry stuck on top of an iced cake of jazz, but as an artist integrated thoroughly into the jam session context of the performance. When given a jazz background, Ella was able to exhibit much more freely her gifts as an instrumental-type improvisor.”


Elsewhere, reviewing an appearance by Ella with the Basic band in London in 1971, Green has described as vividly and succinctly as possible the phenomenon of Ella working in an instrumental jazz context:


“The effect on Ella is to galvanize her into activity so violent that the more subtle nuances of the song readings are swept away in a riot of vocal improvisation which, because it casts lyrics to the winds, is the diametric opposite of her other, lullaby, self. And while it is true that for a singer to mistake herself for a trumpet is a disastrous course of action, it has to be admitted that Ella's way with a chord sequence, her ability to coin her own melodic phrases, her sense of time, the speed with which her ear perceives harmonic changes, turn her Basie concerts into tightrope exhibitions of the most dazzling kind.”


It was her activity with Jazz at the Philharmonic that exposed and exploited the singular duality of Ella Fitzgerald's musical personality. Between 1942, when her career as a bandleader came to an end, and 1946, when she joined Granz, she had marked time, so to speak, as an admired but hardly sensational singer of popular songs. With Jazz at the Philharmonic, she was back with jazz.


The timing was right. Bop had arrived, and Ella was with it, incorporating into her vocal improvisations the adventurous harmonic deviations and melodic flights of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Indeed, according to Barry Ulanov, in his A History of Jazz in America, the very term "bop," or "bebop," can be traced to Ella's interpolation of a syllabic invention, "rebop," at the close of her recording of " 'T'ain't What You Do, It's the Way That You Do It" in 1939.


She has cultivated and treasured this duality ever since, and wisely so. Singers who have adhered more or less exclusively to an instrumental style of singing, using the voice, as jazz terminology has it, "like a horn," have won the admiration and homage of jazz musicians and jazz critics, but they have failed to win the enduring and financially rewarding affections of a wider public. Others have stuck to ballads and won the public but failed to achieve the artistic prestige associated with recognition as a jazz singer. Ella, more than any other singer, has had it both ways.


Norman Granz, again, has had a lot to do with it. When Ella's recording contract with Decca expired in 1955, she signed with Granz's Verve label and inaugurated, in that same year, a series of Song Book albums, each devoted to a single songwriter, that took her over a span of twelve years through an enormous repertoire of fine songs, some of them unfamiliar, by Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers.


These were the first albums to give star billing to individual songwriters, and they served the double purpose of acknowledging and demonstrating the genius of American composers while providing Ella with popular material worthy of her vocal art. "I never knew how good our songs were," Ira Gershwin once said to George T. Simon, "until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them."


As a jazz singer Ella has been pretty much in a class by herself, and that in a period rejoicing in many excellent ones, notably Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Anita O'Day, Jo Stafford, Kay Starr, and Sarah Vaughan, not to overlook, in England, Cleo Laine. I am using the term "jazz singer" here in the sense that jazz musicians use it, referring to a singer who works—or can work—in a jazz musician's instrumental style, improvising as a jazz musician improvises. Ella was, of course, building on the techniques first perfected, if not originated, by Louis Armstrong, tailoring and extending his devices according to the new conventions of bop.


There is a good deal of Armstrong in Ella's ballads, too, although none of his idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. What she shared with Louis in a popular ballad was a certain detachment—in her case a kind of classic serenity, or, as Benny Green puts it, a "lullaby" quality—that has rendered her, in the opinion of some of us, less moving than admirable and delightful. In terms of tone quality, variety, and richness of vocal color, enunciation, phrasing, rhythm, melodic invention, and embellishment, her singing has always been immaculate and impeccable, unequaled, let alone surpassed, by any other singer. But in exposing the heart of a lyric she must take second place, in my assessment, at least, to Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, and Ethel Waters.


This may well be because she has never been one for exposing her own heart in public. She shares with an audience her pleasures, not her troubles. She has not been an autobiographical singer, as Billie and Frank were, nor a character - projecting actress, as Ethel Waters and Peggy Lee have been, which may be why her phrasing, despite exemplary enunciation, has always tended to be more instrumental than oral, less given to the rubato devices of singers more closely attuned to the lyrical characteristics of speech.


What she has offered her listeners has been her love of melody, her joy in singing, her delight in public performance and her accomplishments, the latter born of talent and ripened by experience, hard work, and relentless self-discipline. Like Louis, she has always seemed to be having a ball. For the listener, when she has finished, the ball is over. It has been a joyous, exhilarating, memorable, but hardly an emotional, experience.


Also, like Louis, she has addressed herself primarily to a white rather than a black public, not because she has in any sense denied her own people, but rather because, in a country where blacks make up only between ten and twenty percent of the population, white musical tastes and predilections are dominant. They must be accommodated by any black artist aspiring to national and international recognition and acceptance. In more recent years, younger whites have tended to favor a blacker music. A B. B. King has been able to achieve national celebrity where a Bessie Smith, fifty years earlier, could not. When Ella was a girl, what the white majority liked was white music enriched by the more elemental and more inventive musicality of black singers and black instrumentalists.


Ella's singing, aside from the characteristic rhythmic physical participation, the finger-popping and hip-swinging, and the obviously congenial scat-ting, has never been specifically or conspicuously black. It represents rather the happy blend of black and white which had been working its way into the conventions of American popular singing since the turn of the century, and which can be traced in the careers of Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Ethel Waters, Mildred Bailey, and Bing Crosby.


When Ella was a girl, black singers — those in organized show business, at any rate — were modeling themselves on the white singing stars of the time, and many white singers were modeling themselves on the charmingly imperfect imitation. It is significant that Ella's first model was Connee Boswell. A comparison of the records they both made in the late 1930s shows again how perceptive an ear Ella had from the first. But it is just as significant that Connee Boswell belonged to a generation of jazz-oriented white singers— others were Mildred Bailey and Lee Wiley—who had been listening to Bessie Smith and, above all, to Ethel Waters.


Again like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald has achieved that rarest of distinctions: the love and admiration of singers, instrumentalists, critics, and the great lay public. But while she may be for the jazzman a musicians' musician, and for the lay public the First Lady of Song, she has always been more than anything else a singers' singer. John Hendricks, of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross fame, has put it well, responding to an Ella Fitzgerald record on a Jazz Journal blindfold test:
Well, of course, she's my favorite — she's tops! I just love her. She's Mama! I try and sing my ballads like she does. I was working in a hotel in Chicago, and Johnny Mathis came in to hear me. I had just finished singing a new ballad I was doing at the time, and he came up to me and said, "Jon, you sure love your old Fitzgerald, don't you?"


"Yes," I replied, "and don't you, too?"


"We all do!" he said.


And that's it. Everyone who sings just loves little old Fitzgerald!”