Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

 

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A moving and penetrating documentary about one of the greatest popular singers of our time.

 

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

Ella Jane Fitzgerald

  

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) had one of the best singing voices of the twentieth century. In her long career she mastered the art of jazz and scat singing so well that her god-given talents for interpretation and improvisation earned her the sobriquets of the First Lady of Song, the Queen of Jazz and, simply, Lady Ella. For sixty years she demonstrated the fact that she had perfect diction, immaculate phrasing and a purity and warmth of tone like no other singer of her time. Leslie Woodhead’s excellent film documents this most talented of musical artists mainly through carefully chosen and assembled archive material interspersed with interviews with fellow musicians.

Ella Fitzgerald had an unpromising start in life, having been born in 1917 in Virginia to an unmarried couple who only stayed together two years following Ella’s arrival. She then lived with her mother and her new partner, a Portuguese immigrant, in Yonkers, New York, but when Ella’s stepsister was born they moved to a run-down Italian area of the city. It was not a happy home life for Ella with her stepfather and so, when her mother died from injuries in a car accident, she then moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. She was fifteen years old.

After singing on the streets of Harlem in order to make some money, she subsequently made her first public appearance in November 1934 at the famous Apollo Theatre’s amateur nights. She really wanted to dance but, as the show fielded an expert team of hoofers, she stuck to singing and won first prize. It wasn’t long before she was singing with Chick Webb’s band and also beginning to make records. She eventually left the band to go solo and joined Decca Records. Norman Granz became her agent and initiated her into the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. As the Swing era faded out and Bebop came into fashion, Ella developed her scat singing style which put her in top position on the jazz scene.

Leaving Decca Ella joined Granz’s Verve label and released a series from the era of the Great American Songbook. The first double-album was Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, released in 1956, and she went on to record some twenty albums for Verve. The Songbook series also included the works of Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. Seen together this series is one of the greatest recorded collections of popular songs ever committed to vinyl. They are still available on CD.

As well as continuing to tour, Ella also appeared in a handful of films such as Ride ‘Em Cowboy, Pete Kelly’s Blues, St Louis Blues and Let No Man Write My Epitaph. She often guested on celebrities’ television shows, and her recordings have been used constantly as music for hundreds of films and TV series. She travelled the world and Leslie Woodhead’s film documents the occasional racist troubles, as well as the Svengali hold that Granz had over all his artists. The contributions in the film from fellow musicians reveal how much she was admired not only by the public but also by her peers in the industry. These are telling responses which include among others moving recollections from Ray Brown Jr, the son Ella adopted with her husband, musician Ray Brown. Altogether this is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest musical artists of all time and one we will never see the like of again.

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Featuring  Tony Bennett, Jamie Cullum, Laura Mvula, Johnny Mathis, Smokey Robinson, Cleo Laine, André Previn, Norma Miller, Patti Austin, Itzhak Perlman, Margo Jefferson, Will Friedwald, Ray Brown Jr; narrated by Sophie Okonedo.

 

Dir Leslie Woodhead, Pro Reggie Nadelson, Supervising Producer Peter Worsley, Ex Pro Geoff Kempin and Terry Shand, Ph Peter Nelson and Allan Palmer, Ed Ian Miller.

 

Eagle Rock Films Production-Eagle Rock Entertainment.
90 mins. UK/USA. 2019. Rel: 6 May 2019. Cert. 12A..