Category Archives: Jazz

Ella Fitzgerald 4.25.13 Thought of the Day

“It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.” — Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Sings Broadway

Ella Sings Broadway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born on this day in Newport News, Va. in  1917.  Today is the  96th anniversary of her birth.

Her parents, William and Tempie Fitzgerald split when she was an infant and Ella and her mother moved to Yonkers, New York. Tempie fell in love with Joe Da Silva and the couple had a baby girl, Ella’s half-sister, Frances in 1923. When Joe couldn’t make ends meet with his part-time chauffeuring gig he dug ditches. Tempie worked at a laundromat. Even little Ella helped out, she was a runner for local gamblers.

Ella enjoyed sports as a child and liked to dance and sing with her friends. “some evenings they would take the train into Harlem and watch various acts at the Apollo Theater.” [The Official Website of Ella Fitzgerald] She was inspired by Louis Armstrong and the Boswell Sisters, a trio from New Orleans who specialized in tight harmonies and intricate rhythms.

She had to grow up fast  in 1932 when her mother died from injuries she received in a car crash. Joe died shortly thereafter, and Frances shortly after him. Ella lived with her Aunt Virginia for a while.

Her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. ….Eventually Ella escaped from the reformatory. The 15-year-old found herself broke and alone during the Great Depression, and strove to endure….. [Ibid]

She was homeless for a while and on the run. But her luck turned around when she was 17. She was at the Apollo Theatre and her name was selected to compete at “Amateur Night.” Although she was planning to dance  she changed her mind when she saw another act  win the crowd over with their spectacular dancing. She would have to do something else. She decided to sing instead. She chose an old Boswell song, “Judy,” that she knew by heart.

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ella could be shy off stage, but on stage she lit up like a Christmas Tree. The audience loved her song and demanded an encore (she did the song from the flip side of the Boswell record). She was fearless and she won the talent show and took home the $25 prize. “Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience,…I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.” [Ibid]

She began to enter every talent show she could find. And she won them all. She met drummer/bandleader Chick Webb and signed a contract with him to front his band for $12.50 a week. In 1936 she recorded “Love and Kisses” on the Decca label. At 21 She recorded “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” her first #1 hit.

When Webb died his band changed its name to “Ella and her Famous Orchestra.” She recorded 150 songs with the group, but it wasn’t until she left, in 1942 that her career really began to take off.  She signed with Decca records  and did a  series of “songbooks” by famous jazz composers. From Irving Berlin to Duke Ellington to Cole Porter she reinterpreted jazz standards for a new audience.

“I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them,” Ira Gershwin once remarked. [Ibid]

She also began to work with Norman Granz on his Jazz at the Philharmonic and her sound morphed from big band to bebop and she began to master scat singing.

She received the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan in 1987. She gave her final concert in Carnegie Hall in 1991. She died on June 15, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California

Here she is scatting away and doing a Broadway standard:


Frank Sinatra 12.12.12 Thought of the Day

“May you live to be 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine.”
— Frank Sinatra

Image courtesy last.fm

Image courtesy last.fm

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on this day in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA in 1915. Today is the 97th anniversary of his birth.

Frank was the only child of Marty and Dolly Sinatra. As a kid he stood on top of the bar at a local nightclub and sang for tips. He dropped (or was kicked) out of high school, and help make ends meet at home by delivering the local paper, the Jersey Observer. He also worked as a riveter at a local shipyard. Although he couldn’t read music he began singing professionally by the mid 1930s when he joined the Three Flashes (they changed their name to the Hoboken Four.)

He worked as a singing waiter in Englewood Cliffs for $15 a week for almost 4 years. Then Henry James signed him for a one year contract at $75 a week. On July 13th, 1939, as the US was emerging from a decade of Depression and the world was on the advent of another great War, 23-year-old  Frank Sinatra recorded his first record, From the Bottom of my Heart, with the Harry James Orchestra.

He released 10 songs with James (none of which charted particularly high in their original pressing.) Sinatra switched to the more popular Tommy Dorsey’s band (with James’ blessing) in November. He recorded over 40 songs on Dorsey. One of his biggest hits with Dorsey was I’ll Never Smile Again.

By 1941 he was at the top of  both the Billboard and Down Beat magazine polls. Not only did he sell records, he opened up an entirely new audience — the bobby soxers (aka teenagers.) [It seems odd today — when so much of a company’s advertising budget goes toward capturing the 12-20 year old’s pocketbook — but prior to 1940 most consumers were adults.  Sinatra appealed to both adult women and bobby sox wearing girls.]

Image courtesy last.fm

Image courtesy last.fm

He went solo in 1943 and in the next three years he charted 17 times.  Sinatra was classified 4-F for military service because of a perforated eardrum, so he did not serve in the military.

He started making films as part of the Dorsey Band  with Las Vegas Nights and  Ship Ahoy, he had a walk on / singing part in the wonderfully named Reveille with Beverly but then had his first real role in Higher and Higher. He teamed with Gene Kelly for the hugely successful Anchors Aweigh in 1945.  It was the first of three Sinatra/Kelly films with Take Me Out to the Ball Game and On the Town coming out in 1949.  He won a special academy award for his work on the (dated) short film The House I Live In. (1945)

At the beginning of the 1950’s Sinatra saw his popularity wane somewhat. The bobby soxers who had screamed out deafening choruses of “FRANKIE” for the thin, blue-eyed singer had found new idols to adore.

He came back with a bang with his next movie, 1953’s From Here to Eternity. He won an Oscar as bad boy Angelo Maggio.

Cover of "From Here to Eternity"

Cover of From Here to Eternity

The same year he signed with Capitol Records. In 1954 his album Swing Easy! was named Album of the Year by Billboard and the single Young At Heart was picked for Song of the year. Swing Easy was arranged by Nelson Riddle. Sinatra and Riddle worked together again for Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! which included I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

He poked fun at his mobster image in the movie version of Guys and Dolls. in 1955 as Nathan Detroit.  In 1956 he played Mike Connor to Grace Kelly’s Tracy Lord in High Society.  The next year he was Joey in Pal Joey.

He started his own record label in 1960, Reprise Records. 

In 1962 he starred in his most dramatic movie the classic political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate. [For my money The Manchurian Candidate is the best movie of the bunch.]

He was a founding member of the Rat Pack and worked alongside Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop in several movies and countless nightclub acts.

Here he is  having a ton of fun singing Lady Is a Tramp with the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald

Sinatra was a sucker for charities.  He raised over a billion dollars in the course of his life for charities all over the world.

His generosity touched the worlds of education, medicine, science, and children’s needs, his favorite cause. … Sometimes it was a late-night phone call that moved him; sometimes he just caught wind of a hard-luck story on the news or in the paper and did what he could to fix it. [Sinatra.com]

In 1962 he led a 12 country World Tour for Children that raised over a million dollars for children’s charities worldwide. He paid for the entire cost of the tour himself, and recruited other musical luminaries to join him.

He also worked against segregation , taking a major role in the desegregation of Nevada entertainment and hospitality industry in the 1960s. He boycotted venues and hotels where black performers and guest were banned. And he played benefits for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Equal Right Movement.

Sinatra received the Presidential medal of Freedom from Ronal Reagan in 1985.

Ole’ Blue Eyes faced his final curtain on May 14, 1998. He was 82 years old.

Frank older

Image courtesy last.fm


Thought of the Day 9.11.12 Harry Connick Jr.

“hard to sit in silence, to watch one’s youth wash away.”

–Harry Connick Jr.

[Image courtesy: Last.fm]

Joseph Harry Fowler Connick Jr. was born on this day in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA in 1967. He is 45 years old.

Connick’s mother, Anita, was a lawer and judge, she rose through the ranks to become  a Louisiana Supreme Court justice. Harry’s first concert was at a campaign event when his father, Joseph, was running for district attorney. Harry was 5 and had been taking piano lessons for two years, The little boy sang the national anthem. (His dad won the election.) At 9 he performed  Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Opus 37 with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra and joined the musician’s union. He took lessons at the New Orleans Center for  the Creative Arts from Ellis Marsalis and James Booker.

After high school Connick moved to New York City. He played at various jazz clubs,  and caught the attention of singer Tony Bennet (who claimed the youngster could be the next Sinatra) and Columbia Record exec George Butler (who signed Connick to the label.)

Connick’s first album. [Image Courtesy: Wikipedia]

His first, self titled, album was largely instrumental, but  he added vocals to his second album, 20. Harry Connick, Jr. sings like a Delta summer evening — his voice is warm and boozy and smooth all at the same time. He pulls you in and dances you around a song. At 20 he was singing standards that belonged to a generation (or two generations) his senior, and he did it with style. To date Connick has put out 27 albums.  From Jazz to Funk to Ballads to Big Band to the songs he loved from childhood he makes it sound easy… and has sold over 25 million recordings.

Cover for When Harry Met Sally… [Image Courtesy: Amazon.com]

Rob Reiner signed Connick for the soundtrack of When Harry Met Sallyin 1989. The soundtrack is lush with Big Band standards like “It Had to Be You,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,”  “But Not for Me,” “Where or When” and (a personal favorite) “I Could Write A Book,” and went to #1 on the Jazz Charts  while reaching double-platinum.  Connick won a Grammy for his effort.

The film’s success led to Harry’s first multi-platinum album, an accomplishment made even more impressive by the fact that it was also Harry’s first Big Band recording. [Harry Connick, Jr official web page]

Reiner agreed with Bennet’s assertion that Connick had a certain Sinatra-esque style, and Connick followed up his success scoring Harry Met Sally by going ON camera in the WWII film Memphis Belle. Next he played Eddie in Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate.

Harry changed tunes for his next film role, portraying a homicidal sociopath in 1995’s Copycat. The critics took notice, with the New York Times dubbing him, “…scarily effective,” and the Tampa Tribune naming him “most memorable” in a cast that included Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver. [Harry Connick, Jr official web page]

He played a fighter pilot / side kick in Independence Day where the actors, writers and directors were too busy blowing things up and saving the world to bother with science, logic or character development. [Too harsh?] He was the romantic good guy to Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats. In 2001 he co-starred with Sarah Jessica Parker  in Life Without Dick.  He was in the horror movie BUG with Ashley Judd.  He  narrator The Happy Elf (which was based on a song he wrote for his Harry for the Holidays 2003 album.) and My Dog Skip and he gave his voice to the animated role of Dean McCoppin in The Iron Giant.  He co-starred with Renee Zellweger in the 2009 rom-com New In Town. And his character heads a team of marine veteranarians who help an injured bottlenosed dolphin in Dolphin Tale. (Ashley Judd co-stars in Dolphin Tale as well, but sans bugs.)

On the small screen he worked with Glen Close in the ABC special South Pacific, and had a recurring role as Grace’s husband Leo Markus on Will and Grace. He was the lead in bio-pic Living Proof about Dr. Dennis Slamon, the man who developed the breast cancer drug Herceptin. He was the host for the Weather Channel’s 2007 documentary 100 Biggest Weather Moments (The Weather Channel donated $75,000 to Musician’s Village, a project Connick and Branford Marsalis devollped with Habitat for Humanity to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. His latest television role is a recurring spot on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as A.D.A. David Haden.

Poster for The Pajama Game [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

He has appeared in several Broadway shows including the 2006 revival of The Pajama Game,  and the 2011 revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, as well as two special concert tours, An Evening with Harry Connick Jr. and His Orchestra in 1990 and Harry Connick Jr.: In Concert on Broadway in 2010. He also composed the music and lyrics for Thou Shalt Not.

After Hurricane Katrina devisated New Orleans and the Gulf region Connick joined forces with other musicians and civic leaders to help rebuild the city. Portions of the royalties from Oh, My NOLA  and Chanson duVieux Carre along with the concert tours promoting the albums went to Musician’s Villiage.


Thought of the Day 8.25.12 Elvis Costello

I used to be disgusted; now I try to be amused.

–Elvis Costello

Declan Patrick MacManus was born on this day in Paddington, London, England in 1954. He is 58 years old.

Declan grew up around music. His father, Ross MacManus, was a singer for The Joe Loss Orchestra, a dance band with it’s own popular BBC Radio Show. Ross, who had to learn a new song every week for the show, brought home demo tapes to practice, and young Declan absorbed the tunes. His first recording was with his dad, the two sang for a commercial for R. White’s Lemonade.

When he was 17 he moved to Birkenhead (opposite Liverpool on the Mersey River) and started a folk duo with Allan Mayes. He formed the country rock band Flip City when he moved back to London in 1974. It was then that he took the stage name D.P. Costello. He supported himself as a computer operator and an office clerk while continuing to hone his skills as a singer, song writer and musician.

He signed with Stiff Records, and independent label out of London and changed his pseudonym to Elvis Costello.

When Elvis Costello‘s first record was released in 1977, his bristling cynicism and anger linked him with the punk and new wave explosion. …he tore through rock’s back pages taking whatever he wanted, as well as borrowing from country, Tin Pan Alley pop, reggae, and many other musical genres. Over his career, that musical eclecticism distinguished Costello‘s records as much as his fiercely literate lyrics. [Allmusic by Rovi]

The first lp, My Aim Is True had two singles, “Less Than Zero” and “Alison.” While neither initially charted “Alison” has become a classic and the album reached number 14 on the British charts.

His backing band, The Attractions, was firmly in place for his next lp, This Year’s Model. Bruce Thomas played bass, Steve Nieve played Keyboards, and Pete Thomas was the drummer, while Costello sang lead and played guitar for the group. The lp reached #4 in Brittain and #30 in the US. Armed Forces did even better with its catchy single “Oliver’s Army.”  That was followed by Get Happy!!  (1980) and Trust (1981).

He put on some country western boots and recorded with Billy Sherrill, a Nashville producer for his next lb, Almost Blue with the single “A Good Year for the Roses.” 1982 brought Imperial Bedroom, 1983 , Punch the Clock and “Every Day I Write the Book.” In 1984 he went on a solo tour with Goodbye Cruel World, and in 1985 he did King of America (sans the Attractions.) He briefly reunited with the Attractions with Nick Lowe as producer for Blood and Chocolate.

He teamed up with Paul McCartney in 1987  for Spike with the single “Veronica.” Mighty Like a Rose followed in 1989.

Costello switched gears again in 1993, this time  going classical. He wrote a song cycle called the Juliet Letters which he performed with the Brodsky Quartet.

Back with The Attractions and to rock and rol  he put out Brutal Youth in 1994. All This Useless Beauty is a cover album of sorts, he penned all the songs, but they were originally done by other artists.

He wrote theme songs for Austin Powers and Notting Hill (his achingly beautiful “She” is almost as lovely as Julia Roberts.)

In 2001 he worked with Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas  on When I Was Cruel, with the amazing single “Dust.”

Next up was his interpretation of the Great American Song Book with North “falling halfway between Gershwin and Sondheim.” [Allmusic by rovi], and the live jazz album Flame Burns Blue — with Costello in front of The Metropole Orkest, a 52-piece orchestra.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans Costello joined forces with Allen Toussaint (they had worked together on Spike) for The River in Reverse

Momofuku (2008), Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (2009) and National Ransom (2010) round out his impressive discography.

Whew! Another LONG bio. They always look so easy when I start. But I just bet I forgot your favorite album or single, didn’t I? Come on… let me have it… what’s your Elvis Costello favorite [leave me a comment.]


Thought of the Day 8.4.12 Louis Armstrong

“I got a simple rule about everybody. If you don’t treat me right / shame on you!”

–Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong (Photo credit: late night movie)

Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was born this day in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1901. Today would be his 111th birthday.

The grandson of slaves, his family was very poor. His father, William Armstrong, abandoned the family when Louis was a baby. His mother, Mayann often turned to prostitution to make ends meet and she left Louis and his little sister Beatrice with their grandmother Josephine Armstrong. The little boy did what he could to earn money. He worked as a  paper boy. He hauled coal to the red-light district — and lingered around the clubs to listen to the music. In 1907 he sang in a street quartet for change.  He did odd jobs for the Karnofsky family, a Lithuanian-Jewish family who took him in and treated him well. The Karnofskys lent Armstrong the money buy his first cornet.

b/w line drawing of cornet

b/w line drawing of cornet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When he was 11 years old he was sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, a reform school, for firing his a pistol into the air on New Year’s Eve. While at the home Armstrong really learned to play the cornet (he had been self taught and could play by ear prior to the lessons he had at the home).

He was released from the home at 14. He worked hauling coal and unloading barges during the day and brought out his horn at night. He went to honky tonk clubs like “the Funky Butt Hall” to listen to established musicians and learn from them. Joe “King” Oliver mentored the young man. By 17 he was playing professionally.

By the 1920’s he was playing on riverboats and traveled up to St. Louis. His jazz trumpet solos and vocals became his signature style. In 1922 “King” Oliver invited him to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. The money was good enough that Armstrong no longer had to work the menial labor day jobs to make ends meet. By 1925 he was headlining his own band and playing with artist like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. He was billed as “The World’s Greatest Jazz Cornetist” for a gig at the Dreamland Cafe, and cut his debut record with his own group Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five. By the 1930s his act had gone international.

[Portrait of Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, N...

[Portrait of Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

According to the Louis Armstrong House Museum Site he:

  • developed a way of playing jazz, as an instrumentalist and a vocalist, which has had an impact on all musicians to follow;
  • recorded hit songs for five decades, and his music is still heard today on television and radio and in films;
  • wrote two autobiographies, more than ten magazine articles, hundreds of pages of memoirs, and thousands of letters;
  • appeared in more than thirty films (over twenty were full-length features) as a gifted actor with superb comic timing and an unabashed joy of life;
  • composed dozens of songs that have become jazz standards;
  • performed an average of 300 concerts each year, with his frequent tours to all parts of the world earning him the nickname “Ambassador Satch,” and became one of the first great celebrities of the twentieth century.

Here’s Louis Armstrong (Trumpet), Trummy Young (Trombone), Peanuts Hucko (Clarinet), Billy Kyle (Piano), Mort Herbert (Bass), and Danny Barcelona (Drums) in Stutttgart Germany in 1959.

[note to self: MUST sing more jazz so I can play in a band with some one named Trummy and Peanuts.]


7.17.12

Vince Guaraldi 

Couldn’t really find a verbal quote for today’s birthday honoree, but, please, isn’t this musical clip better? 

Vince Anthony Guaraldi was born today in San Francisco in 1928. He he would have been 84.

Guaraldi, aka “Dr. Funk,” began playing piano gigs in college. His first record was with the Cal Tjader Trio in 1953, entitled “Vibratharpe.” in 1955 he started his own trio with guitarist Eddie Duran and bass player Dean Reilly. The trio released “The Vince Guaraldi Trio” in 56 and “A Flower is a Lonesome Thing” in ’57. Guaraldi continued to do album work with other musicians throughout the late 1950s.

He picked up on the Latin vibe with a reformed trio (Bassist Monte Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey) and  put out Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus.” The track Cast Your Fate to the Wind became his first Gold Record and earned him a Jazz Grammy.

He was chosen by Reverend Charles Gompertz of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral to compose a “modern setting for the choral Eucharist.” The  40 minute piece, for jazz trio and 68-voice choir,  took him a year an half to write, and includes an 11 minute instrumental “Holy Communion Blues” and a syncopated “Kyrie Eleison.” Performed in May of 1965, the recording went on critical and popular success.

He became a household name when he  pennedLinus and Lucy and other songs for  A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Heres another version of the Linus and Lucy Theme that I really liked  (it takes a bit of time to start, but it’s nice).


Thought of the Day 6.15.12

“Every day when I sit down to play, I learn something new.”
Erroll Garner

Erroll Garner was born this day Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1923. He would have been 89 years old.

Self taught Jazz pianist  and composer who played on more than 200 albums. Garner came from a musical family and began to play piano at the age of three. He was ambidextrous and his signature sound involved playing the beat on the left hand (think rhythm guitar on the piano) while playing ahead of the beat with his right hand.  He was a session musician for hundreds of other jazz and classical artist, but he was most often found behind the piano with a jazz trio.

His hits include “Laura” “Misty” “Nightwind” “The Loving Touch” “Paris Mist” “Gaslight” “Dreamy” and “That’s My Kick”. His 1958 album “Concert by the Sea” is one of the best selling jazz albums  of all time.

[Portrait of Erroll Garner, New York, N.Y., be...

[Portrait of Erroll Garner, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Here’s the You Tube link to Erroll Garner playing Misty at BRT Studio in Brussels, Belgium:


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