Roger Spence, director of Fife Jazz Festival, writes on why the Kingdom is celebrating Ell’s centenary year
Ella Fitzgerald is one of those artists its almost impossible to celebrate.
Nobody in the history of jazz has ever sounded anything like her. Peerless is the right word here. Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum, Frank Sinatra – there’s a long list of extraordinarily original artists across jazz history. Not surprising really.
It’s much easier to sound like Abba, The Beatles, The Eagles and the other countless pop tribute shows that seem to populate our concerts halls and theatres nowadays.
But when it’s Ella’s centenary year, you can’t ignore it.
You’ve got to try and promote her and everything she stood for.
So what is it about Ella – first, it’s the unbelievable musical quality to hit every note perfectly, with the right pitch; while inhabiting the lyrics, sounding like she means it, with superbly clear diction; and then really, really, swinging, almost to the point where she doesn’t need the great bands and arrangers she worked with. Then its the music.
Of course, she started with Big Band and bebop, but it was the American Songbooks that established her as a mainstream great. Cole Porter, Rodgers&Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, The Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer had their songs defined by Ella’s imperious voice. Who, in the panoply of current singers has the musicianship, the sense of swing, the clarity of diction, the love of the American songbook, and the effervescence, the joie de vivre that it takes to even start to say something about Ella?
We thought about all the singers we know, right across the world, and one by one ruled them out, to be left with a singer who lives on our doorstep. Raised in Glenrothes, Fife and living in Glasgow, Seonaid Aitken epitomises all the qualities that Ella Fitzgerald brought to the world. How will she do?
We’ll find out as she sings the songs Ella made famous for the first time at the Rothes Halls on Thursday February 9 – and she’s got The Groove Merchant Jazz Orchestra backing her, and, just announced, a male foil. Someone who can sing Louis Armstrong in the Ella n’Louis duets. That’s Sam West, lead singer in The Fortunate Sons.
A cracking night in prospect when we celebrate the greatest singer that jazz, and possibly popular music, has ever witnessed – and the greatest jazz singer in Scotland, and possibly way beyond too.
>> A Night with ella, Rothes Halls, Thursday, February 9.
Ticket details at Fife Jazz Festival