Ella Fitzgerald - vocals; Hank Jones - piano; Jimmy Woods - bass; Jo Jones - drums; Jo Jones Quartet: George Wein - piano; Ruby Braff - trumpet; Jimmy Woods - bass; Jo Jones - drums
In 1950, 25-year-old jazz-loving entrepreneur and Boston native George Wein opened a nightclub in the Copley Square Hotel. He called it Storyville. Named for the historic section in New Orleans where prostitution was confined by city ordinance, it was also reputedly the birthplace of jazz (pioneers like Jelly Roll Morton played piano in the bordellos of Storyville as a teenager). Wein's Storyville was an instant success. The room was inaugurated in late September 1950 by the Bob Wilber Septet and the place was packed every night since. The following year, Wein relocated to a larger room in the Hotel Buckminster on Kenmore Square near the Boston Red Sox's home, Fenway Park. Wein once again hired clarinetist Wilber to inaugurate the new room in the first week of February 1951. During that year, Wein booked such stars as boogie woogie piano pioneer Meade Lux Lewis, jazz piano virtuoso Art Tatum, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday, pianists George Shearing and Erroll Garner and legendary soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. By 1952, he was booking stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan and by 1953 the club was operating in the black.
Announcer John McLellan from "The Top Shelf" program on Boston radio station WHDH sets a mellow tone with his introduction, in which he explains the show's policy: "Rather than present a carefully presented program which, at its best, might seem rather artificial, we'd like to bring these performers to you at their natural best - relaxed and unselfconscious, almost unaware of the broadcast in progress. So without fanfare or spectacular introductions, we invite you at home, in your car, or wherever you may be, to feel that you just walked into Storyville, you're seated at a table and now on with the show…Miss Ella Fitzgerald." After putting the finishing touches on her first number on opening night of a week-long engagement at Storyville, the "First Lady of Song," who was between record deals at the time of this appearance (after her classic Decca period from 1935 through the late 1940s and before her popular and longstanding relationship with the Verve label from 1956 to 1967), launches into an earthy rendition of "Why Don't You Do Right?," a blues tune from the 1930s that was popularized in 1942 by singer Peggy Lee. Ella has a false start due to some uncontrollable giggles at the outset, but once back on track she deals in urgent tones with jazzy accompaniment from pianist Hank Jones as she sings, "Why don't you do right like some other men do/Just get out of town and get me some money too." Midway through, she begins to take liberties with the tune in her liquid, interpretive phrasing and finishes with a flourish along with her regal backing trio.
Shifting to an easy, mid-tempo swing mode, with the great Count Basie drummer Jo Jones on brushes, Ella and her fellas ease into a hip rendition of the Tin Pan Alley tune "Mean to Me," replete with her unparalleled bop-fueled scatting. The second part of this radio broadcast features the Jo Jones Quartet, with Storyville impresario Wein taking over for Hank Jones at piano. He and Jones are joined by bassist Jimmy Woods and trumpeter Ruby Braff on jaunty, swinging interpretations of three Tin Pan Alley nuggets -- "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," "Pennies from Heaven" and "Sometimes I'm Happy," all of which are underscored by Jones' inimitable touch with brushes and features some particularly soulful playing by the Louis Armstrong-influenced trumpeter Braff. And Wein more than holds his own as a first-rate accompanist and soloist in his own right.
One of the regal singers in the history of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald was a virtuosic improviser as well as a remarkable ballad interpreter. Pure tone, clear diction and an engaging, girl-ish voice were the hallmarks of her straightforward singing style early on, along with her incredible three-octave range. In later years, Ella would develop her improvisational skills to such a degree that she was regarded by male musicians as "one of the cats," capable of swinging as forcefully and spontaneously as any soloist in the band. Born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia she got her big break at the age of 17, winning an amateur talent show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Jazz saxophonist Benny Carter, who happened to be in the audience at the Apollo that evening of November 21, 1934, later brought Ella to the attention of drummer-bandleader Chick Webb, who hired her as the female singer for his popular orchestra, a mainstay at the Savoy Ballroom. She started out sharing vocal duties with Taft Jordan and Louis Jordan before becoming the featured singer with the band. In 1936, the Chick Webb Orchestra scored hits with Fitzgerald on "Sing Me a Swing Song" and "You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)." But it was the catchy 1938 ditty, "A-Tisket A-Tasket," that made Ella a household name. Following Webb's death in June, 1939, she took over the band at age 22, renaming it Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra. She remained its leader for two years before signing as a solo artist in late 1941 with Decca Records.
By 1945, Fitzgerald began to demonstrate a freer, more mature sense of phrasing while alluding to the remarkably agile Louis Armstrong-influenced scat prowess that would become her trademark. Beginning in 1948, the year she married jazz bassist Ray Brown, Ella became a favorite on Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concert tours, unleashing her formidable scatting chops in the company of such jazz stars as Dizzy Gillespie, Flip Phillips, Roy Eldridge, Herb Ellis and Oscar Peterson. During this period, she scored a hit with her scat-laden version of "Lady Be Good," which would become her trademark tune throughout her career. Fitzgerald's profile rose in the 1950s through a series of popular Songbook recordings for Verve dedicated to the works of Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and George and Ira Gershwin. One of the most rewarding albums in this series is her 1958 encounter with Louis Armstrong on Gershswin's Porgy & Bess.
In 1960, she scored another hit with her swinging, upbeat reading of Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife." After bouncing between several different labels through the decade, she emerged in the '70s on Norman Granz's Pablo label with a series of classy small group recordings featuring Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. Fitzgerald fell into ill health in the 1980s, was admitted into intensive care for heart trouble in 1986, then made a comeback in 1990, performing in a London concert with the Count Basie Orchestra. By 1994, she was in retirement, confined to a wheelchair. She died two years later on June 14, 1996. (Bill Milkowski)