Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Set captures Ella on way to becoming jazz legend

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Before there were a slew of one-named pop singers, there was Ella.

The marquee or the club poster would read Ella Fitzgerald, but all you had to do was say Ella for fans of one of the swingingest singers ever to know whom you meant.

She got her break in 1934, by winning an amateur contest at Harlem's Apollo Theater. Ella, in 1935 at age 16, was brought to the attention of bandleader and drummer Chick Webb, who took her under his wing.

The rest is music history, and now a US$136 eight-disc Mosaic Records boxed set of The Complete Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald, Decca Sessions (1934-1941).

Ella, "a blooming force of nature behind a microphone" as the liner notes describe her, was a commercial godsend to Webb and Decca Records, but within a couple of years she overshadowed the drummer/bandleader and essentially made the band hers.

Her popularity meant she was featured on four of five sides recorded by the band, which muddied Webb's role as a drummer and the band's success as a swinging powerhouse that kept the dancers moving at the famed Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.

While most of the swing-era music was labelled as being for dancers, Webb and Ella made sure it was for listeners as well.

Webb's reputation as a drummer is maintained by word-of-mouth, not by these recordings of mainly ballads and medium-tempo numbers, such as the Ella hit of A-Tisket, A-Tasket in 1938.

One of those mouths belonged to drumming legend Buddy Rich, who cited Webb's powerful technique having influenced his own drumming, and referred to Webb as "the daddy of them all."

When Webb died in 1939, Ella fronted the band until she broke it up in 1942 to go solo.

The singer on these discs is a young Ella, who already had a beautiful voice but who had not yet developed her trademark improvising and scatting.

You won't find the Mack the Knife Ella, or the Louis Armstrong collaborator, here. What you will find is a great singer on her way to becoming a legend. As with all Mosiac sets, its 187 tracks are aimed more at the completest than the casual fan.

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The Jimmy King Memorial Jazz Scholarship fund is looking for "young jazz musicians who seek to develop their musical talents through education" to apply for this year's $1,000 award.

The scholarship is named for the late Winnipeg bandleader Jimmy King and administered through the Winnipeg Musicians' Association.

The deadline for submitting applications is Feb. 28 and the scholarship is to be awarded March 15. Applications are available from the musician's association at wma190@mts.net or 204-943-4803.

Applicants must be Canadian citizens or landed immigrants and resident in Manitoba for a minimum of 12 months prior to the application; they may study outside of the province, but must be a resident of Manitoba, as defined by the Manitoba Student Aid Branch; and should be at least 16.

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The 2014 Music 'N' Mavens concert and lecture series, which opens Jan 16, includes some jazzy musical shows at the Rady Jewish Community Centre:

-- Tuesday, Feb. 4, Janice Finlay: Saximental Journey

-- Tuesday, Feb. 11, Martha Brooks and Jeff Presslaff: A celebration of lyricist Sammy Cahn

-- Tuesday, Feb. 25 Julie Husband Quartet: Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano

-- Thursday, March 13, Ron Paley: More jazz, blues, gospel and soul with a touch of Motown.

The season runs from Jan. 16 to March 13 (concerts: $6 members/$10 non-members at the door). Concert times are 2 p.m.-3 p.m. More information is available at 204-477-7510 or online at www.radyjcc.com

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 20, 2014 D3

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