Ella Fitzgerald and The Apollo Theater — the two iconic names have been entwined since the dawn of her performing career, when she stepped out of obscurity to win the Apollo’s fabled Amateur Night on Nov. 21, 1934.
More than 80 years later, a starry array of her vocal heirs convened at The Apollo in Harlem for a centennial tribute concert. Produced in partnership with Gregg Field, who toured as Ella’s drummer in the mid-1980s, the concert featured Patti Austin, Cassandra Wilson, David Alan Grier, Monica Mancini and others — including Lizz Wright, who performed with a small group dubbed The Ella 100 All-Star Quartet.
A live album recorded that evening is now on the near horizon. Ella 100: Live at The Apollo! — due out on Concord Jazz on April 24 — will feature all of the aforementioned, as well as Ayo; the Howard University a cappella group Afro Blue; and Ledisi, whose insouciant version of “Honeysuckle Rose,” performed with the Count Basie Orchestra, has been released as a single.
The latest single from the album is Lizz Wright’s confiding, low-simmering performance of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You.” She begins the song alone, in a stately rubato, before Shelly Berg adds a piano accompaniment about as sparkling and subtle as starlight. A string section adds more luster following Berg’s brief solo, as Wright brings the song home.
“Among an embarrassment of track riches, Lizz’s performance stunned us all and literally stopped the show,” Field, who produced the album as well as the concert, tells WBGO. “It’s one of the most amazing vocal performances I’ve ever heard.”
Ella 100: Live at The Apollo! will be released on April 24. Preorder here.