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Ella herself: From 1984

By Thom O'Connor
Monday, July 9, 2012

Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre will present the acclaimed musical ELLA, starring Broadway veteran Tina Fabrique as America’s first lady of song Ella Fitzgerald. The show previews on July 20 -22 and Opening Night is Tuesday, July 24. Performances will run through August 12, 2012.

The legendary Fitzgerald herself played at Proctors in July, 1984. Bill Rice, a former Gazette classical music writer was among the enthusiastic audience members. He reviewed the performance for the newspaper’s readers who were unable to attend.

His July 16, 1984 commentary is reprinted here with permission of Mr. Rice and the Gazette.

Magnificent Ella Fitzgerald Really 'Wows 'em' at Proctors

BY BILL RICE

At the intermission of Ella Fitzgerald’s Saturday night concert at Proctor, a lot of people seemed to have the same reaction to the first half of her concert.

They came expecting something really good but were bowled over by how much better than that it was.

Before she even began to sing, the first lady of jazz singing was greeted with the kind of applause most performers would like at the end. “We hope you still feel that way when we finish,” she remarked. They did, and then some.

Ella came with a worth-the-price-of-admission backup group called the Paul Smith Trio, consisting of Smith on piano, Bobby Durham on drums and Keeter Betts on bass. The first half of her concert was a mixture of standards with some surprises. The second half included a segment for the trio, a Duke Ellington tribute, and a few other songs.

The multi-Grammy winner (and she's up for another) bowled them over with her enthusiasm, energy, voice, range, musicianship and a surprising sense of humor. It's really incredible to hear her treatment of a song in concert. She takes liberties with the lyrics, rhythm and melody [and] she provides her own frills and fills by imitating horns and percussion instruments….

It’s great when she sings scat flat-out, as she did on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca,” which brought the first half to a sizzling finish, but it’s even more interesting when she slips the vocal improvising in along with the regular lyrics without missing a beat.

And she looked as good as she sounded. The light bounced off her reflective silver and red dress as she opened vibrantly with “Night and Day,” snapping her fingers and vocally punching at the beat.

One thing was evident from the beginning. Ella wasn't going to hold anything back when it came to belting out a song.

Paul Smith provided a particularly sensitive piano-only background for her on a chorus of “The Man I Love” and when the medley it was a part of shifted to “Body and Soul,” Ella split the rafters with a short, stratospheric cadenza.

“Old MacDonald Had a Farm” isn't exactly considered a jazz classic, but the master comes close to turning it into one with her frantic-tempoed version. And she followed that with her own interpretation of a country fiddler on fire.

A short tribute to rock and roll was included to show off a dance step learned from her nieces and nephews and on “In a Mellotone,” which featured bassist Keeter Betts, she suddenly became a trombone, growling through a wah-wah mute….

Ella shifted gears and beats in offering something from the Bossa Nova era with “The Boy from Ipanema” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” but the first half had its poignant moments with Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and Paul Williams’ “'Ordinary Fool.”

The trio’s second-half opening segment did much more than kill time. Highlights were a string bass showcase called “Echoes of Madrid” in which Keeter Betts made his instrument sound like a flamenco guitar, “Send in the Clowns,” in which Paul Smith established himself as a steely-fingered pianist with an ample sense of humor, and “The Lady is a Tramp,” which gave drummer Bobby Durham a chance to shower the theater with notes.

Ella’s tribute to Duke Ellington was a little more reflective, with “Satin Doll,” “Mood Indigo” and “Sophisticated Lady” included.

She picked up things considerably with one of Peggy Lee's songs, “All Right, Okay, You Win.”

After reminding the audience she last played Schenectady with Chick Webb’s band, she began her goodbyes and thanks to the audience with “I’ve Got a Crush on You.”

The first of two encores, “Mack the Knife,” included a crowd-pleasing imitation of Louis Armstrong. The second was “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”

A Scotia native and current resident of Clifton Park, semi-retired Gazette writer BILL RICE is a long-time jazz enthusiast – from far “back in the day” when he studied trombone at the prestigious Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Rice continues to offer a seasonal ski report to Gazette readers. He and his wife Ellen look forward to Opening Night of "Ella" at Capital Rep.

Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street is a not-for-profit, professional theater and the only member of L.O.R.T. (the League of Resident Theatres) in 14 counties of the Upper Hudson-Mohawk Valley. Capital Rep enjoys a management partnership with Proctors arts and entertainment complex in Schenectady. Capital Rep proudly operates within agreements with the Actors Equity Association, United Scenic Artists and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

 

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