WBGO Blog
  • WBGO's Monifa Brown: "There's Something About Ella"

    April 24, 2015. Posted by Monifa Brown.

    There’s something about Ella. “I sing like I feel,” she once confessed.

    This candor and transparency are why Ella’s voice transcends age and race, and has earned followers around the world.

    Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC

    It’s close to twenty years since Ella left the physical realm, and nearly eighty since she first wowed audiences at the Apollo Theatre’s famed ‘Amateur Hour’ as a teenager in Harlem.

    She entered the contest as a dancer - luckily for us, at the last minute, she decided to sing instead. But her irrepressible sense of swing probably came in part from the fact that she knew how to dance.

    Ella’s voice embodies girlish charm and endearing wit. Her exuberance is contagious.

    She was a tour-de-force on an up-tempo swinger, then could turn around and deliver a ballad with the same great sense of drive.

    Few, for my money, can take a lyric, whether by Berlin, Porter, Arlen, or Rodgers and Hart, and make you hear it in a new light like Ella.

    Even Ira Gershwin once declared, "I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”

    Photo by WIlliam P. Gottlieb / LOC
    Photo by William P. Gottlieb / LOC

    Ella had amazing chops. She could – and did - hang with the best of them: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Flip Phillips, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

    She was also prolific – she recorded over 200 albums. From her early dates with Chick Webb to Jazz At The Philharmonic and her Pablo sessions with Joe Pass, she shows her ability to evolve as an artist, the true mark of a creative genius.

    Pianist Jimmy Rowles, her accompanist and one of those who knew her best, spoke of her magical presence in this way.

    "Music comes out of her,” he said. “When she walks down the street, she leaves notes.”

    Her Grammy-winning album Mack The Knife is one of my favorites. It’s a classic example of her onstage brilliance, charisma and ingenuity.

    The album was recorded live in Berlin, with pianist Paul Smith, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks and drummer Gus Johnson.

    It showcases her technical proficiency, the agility of her instrument, and often-humorous approach to improvisations.

    Her scatting on the title track, where she forgets the lyrics and doesn’t miss a beat, are priceless.

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    As a kid in the 70s, I was star-struck when I first saw Ella in a Memorex commercial.

    I used to borrow my dad’s Memorex cassettes to record my favorite songs off the radio and create my own mix tapes.

    In the commercial, Ella’s voice shatters a crystal glass. I’d never seen that before. I thought she was some sort of super hero.

    Rightfully dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella’s ability to deliver a lyric without gimmicks, and with clarity and potency, is unrivaled.

    Billy Strayhorn sums it up best. "Ella is the boss lady. That's all.”

  • Ruben Santiago-Hudson & Bill Sims Jr.: Listen Now

    April 23, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson and musician Bill Sims Jr. perform live at WBGO and talk with Michael Bourne about their new original play, "Your Blues Ain't Sweet Like Mine." The play is at the Two River Theater in Red Bank through May 3. Enjoy!

    santiago669

  • The Legacy Of The Jazz Organ In Philadelphia

    April 22, 2015

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    Rich Budesa was one of six organists to perform. (Image Credit: WXPN)

    In mid-century Philadelphia, dozens of organists reshaped jazz into a popular, swinging, danceable contemporary music. Often in trios with drums and guitar or saxophone, these organ players made church instruments into portable orchestras — a tradition that continues to the present day in Philadelphia.

    Jazz Night In America visits Philadelphia's World Café Live, where WXPN, WRTI and the Philadelphia Jazz Project organized a tribute to three native sons and daughters of the organ tradition: Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott and Charles Earland. Many top local performers help explain what made their city's jazz organ culture thrive.

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