Category Archives: Richard Thompson

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:

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Richard Thompson 1.16.13 Though of the Day

“To stand up on a stage alone with an acoustic guitar requires bravery bordering on heroism. Bordering on insanity.”–Richard Thompson

[Image courtesy Helpless Dancer]

[Image courtesy Helpless Dancer]

Richard John Thompson was born on this day in Notting Hill, London, England in 1949. He is 64 years old.
Thompson was born into a musical family. His father was an amateur guitarist and other family members played music professionally. His first band, which he started in school, was called Emil and the Detectives. Thompson embraced rock and roll, jazz and traditional Scottish music influences as he kerned his skills.
At 18 he joined Fairport Convention, a folk, electric folk, folk rock band.
In his four years with the group, they released a half a dozen albums that married electric rock with acoustic folk, changing the musical landscape in Britain… [NPR.org]
His strong guitar playing helped the band gain traction both in the UK and in the States. Thompson also wrote most of Convention’s songs like “Meet on the Ledge” .
Thompson left Fairport Convention in 1971 and struck out on his own. His first solo album, Henry the Human Fly failed to impress critics and the record buying public, but it did yield an important professional and personal connection — Thompson worked with Linda Peters on the project. Peters and Thompson fell in love and married in October of 1972.
Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson (Photo credit: artolog)

Richard and Linda Thompson put out a half-dozen albums including I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Hokey Pokey and Pour Down Like Silver.
The duo hit their professional stride with the well received album Shoot Out the Lights. Unfortunately their personal life together had begun to unravel. After touring to support the album the couple divorced in 1982.
Here’s Wall of Death from Shoot Out the Lights
From 1983 on Thompson was a solo act — kind of — he found a myriad of other performers who mixed well with his vocal, guitar and folk/rock style.
No artist to emerge in the second half of the ’60s has gone on to have a more productive and vital career than Richard Thompson. The England-born, L.A.-based artist has amassed an astounding body of work comprising more than 40 albums, containing artfully shaped material that seamlessly and expressively integrates traditional and contemporary modes. And Thompson is among the most distinctive of guitar virtuosos, capable of breathtaking drama and sublime delicacy, prompting Rolling Stone to hail him as “a perennial dark-horse contender for the title of greatest living rock guitarist.” [Amazon.com — Richard Thompson Biography]
Richard Thompson at Cambridge Folk Festival

Richard Thompson at Cambridge Folk Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning a beautiful exhibition of his storytelling and musical skills.
The Thompson’s son Teddy began singing professionally with his father in the 1990’s. The two performed a duet, Persausion, for Action Packed, Richard Thompson’s 1999 best-of record.
That same year Thompson was asked for a list of the most popular music of the previous millennium for Playboy Magazine.  Thompson knew they were only looking for a pop look at the past 20 years or so, but he took the task to heart and researched songs stretching back 1068.  He started with Sumer is Icumen In and ended with his own take on Oops! I Did It Again. Thompson decided to record the songs (he did 23 in all).
To get a comprehensive taste of Thompson music you can listen to this NPR concert:

RICHARD THOMPS SM


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