From Phillis Wheatley to Angela Davis to Tyra Banks, Ava got to learn about these inspiring women by embodying them for the camera. And, for those who stumbled across the project as it spread across the Internet, Rodgers included short biographies of each subject.
Queens; A collection of favorite songs from the queens of jazz. [listen]
It’s A Beautiful Evening, Dorothy Dandridge / Cry Me A River, Ella Fitzgerald / Sophisticated Lady, BillieHoliday / Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Nina Simone / Mad About the Boy, Dinah Washington / Someone to Watch Over Me, Lena Horne / Moonlight in Vermont, Sarah Vaughan / Here’s That Rainy Day, Nancy Wilson / I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face, EllaFitzgerald / Stay With It, Dorothy Dandridge / Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye, DinahWashington / I’ll Be Around, Lena Horne / Back In Your Own Backyard, Nancy Wilson / I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), Nina Simone / Dreamsville, SarahVaughan / One For My Baby (And One More For the Road), BillieHoliday
Black history month day 16: Jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.
Ella Fitzgerald was born April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia. She moved to New York with her mother in the early 1920s, and lived in a poor predominately Italian neighborhood. She was a gifted student and had a passion for performance, most especially singing and dancing. She got some of her first musical training at her church. She grew up listening to jazz music recordings of Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and the Boswell Sisters. She especially idolized the lead singer of the Boswell Sisters, Connee.
After losing her mother to a car accident at the age of 15, and moving away from her possibly abusive stepfather, Fitzgerald lived with her aunt and skipped school, sometimes working as a lookout for a mafia affiliate. She was caught by the law and sent to a reform school in Hudson. Eventually she escaped and was homeless for time.
Fitzgerald survived for a few years singing on the streets of Harlem, and her first major debut was singing during amateur night at the Apollo theater. She got a major break when she met bandleader Chick Webb, and began performing with his band. After Webb died, Ella took over the band and toured with them for some time.
Fitzgerald started her solo career in 1942 and performed with artists such as Bill Kenny & the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and the Delta Rhythm Boys. On March 15, 1955, she performed at the Mocambo nightclub in Hollywood at the behest of her friend Marylyn Monroe.
Critics came to know Ella as sort of a reverse Elvis, a black woman popularizing songs written by immigrant Jews for a largely white Christian audience. She was prolific in her career of solo hits and collaborations, and had many well respected live performances and friendships with jazz stars white and black, including Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Dizzy Gillespie, Dike Ellington, and Frank Sinatra.
A few months after college graduation, I moved to a tiny studio apartment in Manayunk, a neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia. My apartment was on top of a bar tending school and was large enough for a bed and a coffee table, nothing more. To give you perspective, the kitchen stove was about four feet away from where I slept. I found a picture of my empty apartment below and the photo was taken in the “kitchen”. It was here where I remember first listening to jazz….on purpose.
My short-lived love affair with jazz started one night after I watched Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. I always have romanticized the 1920s but the movie triggered a night’s worth of appreciation. I poured myself a glass a wine, sat on the stool near my window, lit a cigarette, and listened to the sounds of Louie Armstrong while watching the night life below me. That evening was so pleasurable that I made it a weekly habit that lasted about six months…
I later moved in with one of my best friends (shout out to Erika) to a new neighborhood in Philly. Living with a roommate has a lot more pluses than negatives but you do have less time (and freedom) to enjoy nights alone. It was here where I stopped listening to jazz.
Flash forward to the present, where I am being seduced by jazz for a second time, and again it was triggered by a movie. Although the film is set in modern times rather than the Jazz Age, La La Land’s one protagonist is a passionate jazz musician (played by Ryan Gosling) who’s dream is to open his own jazz club. This resurfaced memories of my time in Manayunk and the nights where I suppressed the habit of watching TV, playing video games, or being on my phone but rather indulged in a slight buzz and jazz music.
The reasons I find jazz so alluring is because:
Jazz was the soundtrack to the Roaring Twenties, a decade that was progressive and rebellious. Women’s suffrage was at its peak at the turn of the decade and women wanted a new standard for themselves. Women danced, smoked, drank, and talked freely about sex. African American culture had a big impact on the 20s and females like Bessie Smith took over the radio. The youth took to night clubs and speakeasies to enjoy different styles of jazz. People were using automobiles and telephones at large scale and motion pictures grew in popularity and accessibility. Those in their teens and twenties rebelled against the cultural norms of the older generations and progressive cities like London, Paris, and New York experienced a new “cultural edge”. In France, the Roaring Twenties are known as the Crazy Years which speaks to the chaotic nature of this decade.
Jazz is ever-changing. Ryan Gosling’s character touches on this during a scene in La La Land –> jazz has a improvisational component to it which allows the artist to change up a song every time he/she plays it. This means that if you are listening to a live jazz band/artist, you may never hear that unique version of the song they are playing ever again. The same artist can play the same song over and over but the piece, to those that really listen, is always new. Jazz also, on a larger scale, has evolved over time, as most genres do. I encourage you to check out reddit user johno456′s answer to the thread below (also earning him reddit gold) to better understand the changes in jazz throughout the last few decades: https://www.reddit.com/r/Jazz/comments/4mjc13/a_challenge_for_you_jazzheads_name_ten_tracks/
Jazz gives me the feels. Jazz makes me feel optimistic, sexy, and inspired. I feel mature, yet youthful. I find the whole experience of listening to jazz very pleasurable.
If you want to dabble, here are some of my recos:
Dream a Little Dream of Me - Ella Fitzgerald
Let’s Get Lost - Chet Baker
Heebie Jeebies - Chick Webb & His Orchestra
The Girl From Ipanema - Amy Winehouse (+ the original version from Gets/Gilberto)
“William P. Gottlieb was an American photographer and newspaper columnist who is best known for his classic photographs of the leading performers of the ‘Golden Age’ of American Jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. Gottlieb’s photographs are among the best known and widely reproduced images of this era of jazz.” (x)
Photographed are: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, 52nd Street, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Hill, and Lena Horne.
Cheek to Cheek - Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong Cheek to Cheek was written by Irving Berlin in 1935 for the musical film Top Hat, where the tune was sung by Fred Astaire. The recording by Fred Astaire hit the #1 position on US charts, where it spent 5 consecutive weeks in the top position. Ella and Louis recorded their version, backed by the Oscar Peterson Quartet, in August, 1956. It was released as the third track on Side B of the 1956 album, Ella and Louis.
Heaven, I’m in heaven And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak And I seem to find the happiness I seek When we’re out together, dancing cheek to cheek
Yes, heaven, I’m in heaven And the cares that hung around me through the week Seem to vanish like a gambler’s lucky streak When we’re out together, dancing cheek to cheek
Oh, I’d love to climb a mountain, reach the highest peak But it doesn’t thrill me half as much as dancing cheek to cheek Oh, I’d love to go out fishing, in a river or a creek, But I don’t enjoy it half as much as dancing cheek to cheek
Now, mama, dance with me I want my arms about you, The charms about you Will carry me through
Yes, heaven, I’m in heaven And my heart beats so that i can hardly speak And I seem to find the happiness I seek When we’re out together, dancing cheek to cheek