A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: The absolutely, unmistakable sound of Ella Fitzgerald. There are not that many musicians who can sing that fast, I don't believe, Murray Horwitz.
MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: And still make sense of the words, and still be on pitch, and still swing. And you can hear me sort of laughing and smiling. Right when that record started to play, smiles broke out on your face and mine. And I think that they will break out on almost everybody's face when you hear Ella Fitzgerald doing an up tempo tune.
SPELLMAN: Well, it's good hearing her doing something which takes us back to her roots, because there she was singing, "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie" with the Chick Webb band, back in the 1930s.
HORWITZ: That's right, and her roots are in the swing era. She started out as a teenager winning, famously, an amateur talent contest at The Apollo Theater in Harlem, and somehow became one of the important musicians who was able to bridge the swing and bebop eras. She was a star in the swing era in the 1930s and she remained a star through the innovations of bebop, and into the '70s and '80s.
SPELLMAN: Now this is of course exemplary of her extremely high musicianship. It has been said of her that she was the only singer to whom the band tuned up.
HORWITZ: It's true. She had an unerring sense of pitch. That is, she was always on the note. And she also is thought of as an instrumentalist, I think in some ways. At least, it's safe to say that we think of Ella Fitzgerald scat singing — that is imitating an instrument — more than almost any other singer, because she was so good at it. This collection contains, I think, one of her best scat solos of all, and one that you hear instrumentalists quote. It's called "Jersey Bounce."
SPELLMAN: Nobody sold a ballad better than Ella Fitzgerald.
HORWITZ: She sings with such soul and such feeling. And there are some beautiful ballads on this. She's backed up, by the way, by a terrific studio band. This was recorded in 1961. It's got the guitarist Herb Ellis; Lou Levy, a longtime accompanist of hers on piano; Joe Mondragon on bass; and Stan Levey on drums; with some substitutions a little bit later in the disc.
There are some extra tracks in this reissue of the original recording. But some songs that you don't often hear. She put her stamp on a very odd ballad, but a beautiful one, called "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most." The album also has one of the most beautiful ballads of all time, "Stella By Starlight," and "You're My Thrill," a very old fashioned song that no one hears today. It's just beautiful and gorgeously romantic. These are songs and performances of songs that really just want to make you cuddle.
HORWITZ:You know, there's a phrase that Duke Ellington used. It's called "beyond category." Well, where he really wrote it down was in his portrait of Ella Fitzgerald the last movement of which is called "Beyond Category."
SPELLMAN: I will accept the authority of Duke Ellington on that subject. Our selection here has been Ella Fitzgerald's Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie. It's on the Verve Recording label. For NPRJazz, I'm A.B. Spellman.
HORWITZ: And, I'm Murray Horwitz.