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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove



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ELLA FITZGERALD

Live in Tokyo 1983

Standing Oh!vation OH 44645

 

 

 

 

1. Night And Day
2. Medley: The Man I Love/Body and Soul
3. Honeysuckle Rose
4. Old McDonald Had A Farm
5. In A Mellotone
6. 'Round Midnight
7. Blue Moon
8. Manteca
9. Medley: I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good/Sophiscated Lady
10. Georgia On My Mind
11. Flying Home
 

Ella Fitzgerald - Vocals
Paul Smith - Piano (tracks 1-8)
Keter Betts - Bass (tracks 1-8)
Bobby Durham - Drums (tracks 1-8)
Joe Pass - Guitar (tracks 9-11)
Harry "Sweets" Edison - Trumpet (track 11)
Clark Terry - Flugelhorn (track 11)
J. J. Johnson, Al Grey - Trombones (track 11)
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Zoot Sims - Tenor saxes (track 11)
Oscar Peterson - Piano (track 11)
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen - Bass (track 11)
Louie Bellson - Drums (track 11)
 

Ella Fitzgerald was the supreme jazz singer. Sarah Vaughan may have been more technically complex and Billie Holiday may have been more rawly emotional, but Ella approached the nearest to what a true jazz vocalist can be. Even at the age of 66, when this "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concert was filmed in Tokyo, she was still magnificent. Admittedly her voice had become a little quavery - especially when using vibrato - but her spirit and jazz feeling were undiminished. Time and again during this concert, one marvels at the adroitness of her voice and the inventiveness of her improvisations. She used her voice like a musician playing jazz on an instrument, and thus she epitomised jazz.

This is clear in the opening number, Night and Day, where she spins out the ending in unexpected ways (what Whitney Balliett called "the sound of surprise"). By now her voice was more unsteady at slow tempo, yet she still plays with the melody in The Man I Love - in the same way that a jazz instrumentalist might do. And she segues effortlessly into Body and Soul, making a short detour into I Loves You Porgy before an ending which takes her from the top to the bottom of her range.

Honeysuckle Rose introduces Ella's famous scatting for the first time in the concert, swapping daring eights with pianist Paul Smith. At this point it is worth mentioning the peerless backing she receives from the accompanying trio, who have the difficult task of following her unpredictable twists and turns. Then a steamingly fast tempo takes her into Old McDonald Had a Farm, not exactly a jazz standard but nonetheless Ella turns it into a jazzy performance, shifting up a key for each chorus. She tells the audience jokingly: "We did this for our country-and-western fans".

In a Mellotone finds her accompanied simply by Keter Betts's double bass (and the audience's handclapping, correctly on the offbeat). Again, she uses her voice like an instrumentalist and even imitates a growling trombone. In complete contrast, she delivers a poignant reading of Thelonious Monk's 'Round Midnight. Blue Moon is preceded by the seldom-heard verse and Ella ends with a vigorous scat version of Dizzy Gillespie's Manteca. She sweats profusely, wipes her brow, and comments several times on how hot it is, but she doesn't even stop for a drink of water.

The mood quietens down for some duets with guitarist Joe Pass, after which the concert ends with a ten-minute all-star jam session typical of Norman Granz's JATP concerts. Ella scats along with the horn players, who all play solos, driven along by the irresistible beat of Oscar Peterson and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen.

Released for the first time on DVD, this represents the second half of a JATP concert, of which the first half was on the companion DVD - OH 4643. The sound quality is fine and the picture is generally clear, although the colours sometimes look rather strange. There are excellent close-ups of the front-line players in the jam session.

The fact that Ella sang so often with top-class musicians on Jazz at the Philharmonic Tours may help to account for her matchless vocal maturity. Despite the occasional vocal flaws due to advancing age, Ella's performance on this DVD is an object lesson in what real jazz singing is about. You are not a jazz vocalist if you simply sing jazz standards. And you are certainly not if you call yourself a jazz singer without having any jazz sensibility at all. You need to have listened to, and learned from, the great jazz musicians - just as Ella Fitzgerald did.


Tony Augarde



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