Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) would have turned 100 years old today. She often affected audiences the way she was affecting Dizzy Gillespie when Bill Gottlieb took this celebrated photo.
It is impossible to find the perfect performance by which to remember Ella, there were so many. Let’s settle (ha) for this one. She played well with others.
Ms. Fitzgerald and I first met, more or less, when Norman Granz invited me backstage during intermission at a Jazz At The Philharmonic concert in Seattle long ago. She was sitting in a kind of alcove, knitting. As we began chatting, Buddy Rich materialized and began teasing her, moving toward her, then back, gliding in and out with fluid drummer dance moves. “Ella,” he kept saying, “Ella…Ella…Ella…”, changing inflections, grinning.
“Oh, Buddy,” she said repeatedly, smiling and shaking her head. Eventually she said, “Run along now.” He didn’t until it was time to go back to work onstage. Then he ran along, leaving Ella smiling, still shaking her head. Aside from recalling that she sang beautifully that night, the memory of her amusement, patience and tolerance has stayed with me ever since.
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