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kottke.org posts about Ella Fitzgerald

Louis Armstrong’s Final Recording

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 05, 2021

It turns out that today (July 5th) is the 50th anniversary of Louis Armstrong’s final recording, made the night before he passed away in 1971. Armstrong, born August 4th, 1901 (he often told people he was born July 4th, 1900) was a month shy of 70 years old.

Ella Fitzgerald, The Lost Berlin Tapes

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

In 1962, Ella Fitzgerald performed a show in Berlin, just two years after the famous performance that earned the jazz great two Grammys for masterfully butchering the lyrics to Mack the Knife. The recording for the ‘62 Berlin show was presumed lost until it was recently rediscovered in the archive of a record executive.

Early this year, Mr. Field and Ken Druker, a vice president at Verve — which survives today under the auspices of Universal Music Group — were digging through a rediscovered trove of live recordings that Granz had stashed away decades ago. They came across an apparently untouched reel-to-reel, with yellowed Scotch tape still holding the box shut, featuring a concert Fitzgerald had given in Berlin two years after that first famous outing.

Upon inspection, they found that recordings had been made in both mono and stereo — a rare stroke of luck. They listened, and the quality was excellent. Using a new engineering software that allowed him to more precisely isolate the instruments and Fitzgerald’s voice, Mr. Field filled out the low end and brought her singing to the front.

The result of their discovery is The Lost Berlin Tapes, now available in stores and various streaming plaforms. Here’s Fitzgerald singing Mack the Knife from that performance:

And the whole album on Spotify:

(via @tedgioia)

Ella Fitzgerald Masterfully Butchers “Mack the Knife”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2020

If you listen to more than 20 seconds of any song by Ella Fitzgerald, you can instinctively tell how amazing a singer she was. But taking a closer look reveals just how special. In this episode of NPR’s Jazz Night in America, they took a look at Fitzgerald’s 1960 performance of Mack the Knife (where she forgot half the words and improvised the rest) and her talent for referencing other songs while improvising, creating live “mix tapes” of popular songs using just her voice.

By 1960, Fitzgerald had become a global sensation. That February she gave an unforgettable performance in West Berlin for an audience of thousands. On the set list was “Mack The Knife,” a huge hit first made popular by Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong. Fitzgerald sang the song flawlessly until about halfway through, when she forgot the lyrics. But she didn’t stumble — instead, she playfully freestyled her way to the end with nonsense syllables and improvised words — the singular jazz style called scatting. This unforgettable and Grammy Award-winning performance demonstrated her masterful grace under pressure.

You can listen to her Grammy-winning version of Mack the Knife on Spotify:

I love how confidently she sings “Oh, what’s the next chorus…” — Fitzgerald belts it out like those are the right lyrics. Her self-assurance sells it. (via the kid should see this)

Vibrant Kodachrome photos of Harlem Renaissance luminaries

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2016

Van Vechten

Van Vechten

Van Vechten

Van Vechten

Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten moved to New York in the early 20th century and became “violently interested in Negroes”. As part of that interest, Van Vechten got to know many of the leading black figures in the city and photographed them, first in black & white but later in vibrant Kodachrome. Almost 2000 of his color photos are available at Yale’s Beinecke Library (direct search). Pictured above are Van Vechten’s photos of Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, W.E.B. DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie, and a young James Earl Jones. (via the new yorker)