The magic of Ella Fitzgerald

Multi-award winning vocalist Claire Martin returns to Worthing with the BBC Big Band to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald in her centenary year.

Friday, 6th October 2017, 9:27 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:29 pm

Through a diverse repertoire arranged and curated by Claire and conductor Barry Forgie, the concert celebrates the music of one of the 20th century’s most iconic vocalists.

Featuring classic versions of Ella’s most famous songs, including That Old Black Magic, Too Darn Hot and Fascinating Rhythm, alongside a selection of music from the many bands and orchestras she worked with, from Chick Webb through to Count Basie, the show is at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre on Sunday, October 15 at 4pm.

So what made Fitzgerald so special?

“For a start, she was the most in-tune singer you will ever hear,” says Claire. “She was very, very rarely out of tune.”

You have to remember that this was the era before auto-tuning, before every last little mistake could be ironed out by technology. Ella was a singer who simply got it right first time.

“And that is amazing when you think of all the albums she did over her long career. These days you can always auto-tune or drop in, but she would sing it right in the first take, and that’s very, very hard to do. These days you can do anything in the studio. You can replace the letter t at the start of a sentence. You could have, say, the word start and take the st- and the -art from two different words. You can have what sounds like one vocal take and it could actually be 60 to 70 different takes all spliced together, all put together like a jigsaw puzzle. But Ella Fitzgerald would never have needed that.

“And she just had wonderful tone and a fantastic sense of timing. She was just wonderful with the emotional attachment to the lyrics. And there was joy in her sound. She could take on some really fun songs, but she could also break your heart. She loved the ballads and all the wonderful songs she sang with Louis Armstrong. She could take you through the full range of emotions.

“And this despite – shock! horror! – the fact she led quite a simple life without the addictions and without the traumas and without the crises. She lived a straight-up uneventful life. There was no addiction, no scandal. You just need to know the basics. She was just... I won’t say the girl next door because that belittles her, but she was the consummate professional. She just never stopped working, never stopped getting new songs.

“I first became aware of Ella Fitzgerald as a very small child growing up in south London because she was my mum’s favourite singer. My mum was nuts about Ella Fitzgerald and still is. I became aware of her because I used to hear her all the time at home or singing along with her. In my teenage years, I just thought it was old-fashioned music, but I could hear that they were great songs. I could appreciate how brilliant her voice was when I was starting to do a lot of singing myself. But I didn’t know I was going to become a professional singer. I just got lucky!”