AuthorsFrom the Wire

The Great Improviser: PW Talks with Judith Tick

In “The Great Improviser: PW Talks with Judith Tick,” Tick explores the vocal talents and musical versatility of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. Tick was inspired to write this book by her fascination with the connection between music and life, particularly how an artist expresses themselves through not only their singing but also their movements and stage presence. With access to personal materials from Fitzgerald’s family, Tick delves into the process of how Fitzgerald cultivated her gift and overcame obstacles in her career. Ultimately, Tick hopes readers will see Fitzgerald as a great improviser who continuously reinvented herself and used music as a way to teach and inspire others.

What prompted this book?

The Great Improviser: PW Talks with Judith Tick

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Fascination with the connection between music and life

When writing ‘Becoming Ella Fitzgerald,’ author Judith Tick was captivated by the profound connection between music and life. She became fascinated by the way artists like Ella expressed themselves not just through their singing but also through their movement and presence on stage. Tick recognized that there was much more to Ella Fitzgerald’s artistry than just her voice and wanted to explore the depth and meaning behind her performances.

Discovery of a piece by Oscar Peterson that praised Ella

In 2005, while compiling an anthology called ‘Music in the USA,’ Tick stumbled upon a piece written by Oscar Peterson that praised Ella Fitzgerald. This discovery sparked a deeper interest in Ella’s life and career and served as the impetus for Tick to delve into the story of this legendary jazz singer. The admiration and recognition from another esteemed musician like Peterson added to the intrigue surrounding Ella and her talent.

Access to Ella Fitzgerald’s personal scrapbook

To further understand and tell Ella’s story, Tick had the privilege of accessing Ella Fitzgerald’s personal scrapbook. This scrapbook, which Ella started when she was just 18 years old, contained articles from prominent publications like DownBeat, Metronome, and the Pittsburgh Courier. It provided insights into Ella’s musical influences, artists she admired, and even articles about herself. Holding this precious collection of memories from Ella’s early days allowed Tick to gain a unique perspective on Ella’s journey and growth as an artist.

What does ‘becoming Ella Fitzgerald’ mean?

The process of cultivating her own gift

‘Becoming Ella Fitzgerald’ refers to the process by which Ella cultivated her innate gift for singing and transformed into the incomparable vocalist she is remembered as today. Ella was blessed with a magnificent voice that some described as a “hundred year voice.” However, it was through years of honing her craft and understanding the power of her talent that she truly became Ella Fitzgerald. This process entailed not only technical development but also a deep sense of responsibility and humility.

Ella’s magnificent voice and talent

One cannot discuss ‘becoming Ella Fitzgerald’ without acknowledging her extraordinary voice and talent. Ella had a unique ability to transcend genres and captivate audiences with her versatile singing style. She effortlessly navigated between swing, scatting, ballads, and more, showcasing her unparalleled range and control. Her voice was a gift that she nurtured and elevated throughout her career, and it played a fundamental role in her transformation as an artist.

Her humble approach to performing

Despite her unparalleled talent, Ella remained humble throughout her career. When she stepped on stage, her aim was not to show off her vocal prowess but to please her audience. Whether singing to a crowd of 10 or 10,000, Ella treated each performance as an opportunity to connect with her listeners and bring them joy through her music. This inherent humility contributed to her growth and excellence as a performer.

Her desire to please her audience

Ella’s desire to please her audience was another crucial aspect of her journey to becoming an iconic musician. She recognized the power of her music to touch people’s lives and went to great lengths to ensure that her performances resonated with her listeners. Ella was acutely attuned to her audience’s reactions and would even take personal responsibility if she sensed any disappointment. This dedication to her audience played a significant role in shaping her evolution as an artist.

Obstacles faced by Fitzgerald

The Great Improviser: PW Talks with Judith Tick

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Stereotype of her manager directing her career

One of the obstacles Ella Fitzgerald faced was the stereotype that her manager, Norman Granz, solely directed her career. While Ella respected and valued Granz, it is essential to recognize that she had a profound influence on the trajectory of her own career. She had a clear understanding of the kind of music she wanted to sing and the artistic path she wanted to pursue. Ella’s collaboration with Granz was built on mutual respect, but she was not a mere puppet being controlled by her manager.

Criticism from jazz critics

During the 1960s, Ella Fitzgerald faced criticism from some jazz critics who believed she didn’t fit neatly into the conventional categorizations of jazz or pop. These critics questioned whether she was “jazz enough” or “pop enough” to be considered a legitimate musician in either genre. However, Ella’s talent and the joy she brought to her performances resonated with audiences worldwide, proving that her music transcended categorization and touched the hearts of listeners across different backgrounds and preferences.

Marginalization of jazz singers, particularly women

Another obstacle Ella Fitzgerald encountered throughout her career was the marginalization of jazz singers, especially women, within the larger jazz community. Jazz critics often overlooked the significant contributions of singers like Ella and perpetuated the idea that they were second-class musicians compared to instrumentalists. This marginalization not only undermined the artistry of jazz singers but also contributed to the broader marginalization of women in the jazz genre. Ella’s journey to becoming a revered figure in jazz was, therefore, even more remarkable considering the systemic barriers she had to overcome.

The picture of Ella from the book

Ella singing to reach as many people as possible

One of the key aspects readers can take away from ‘Becoming Ella Fitzgerald’ is Ella’s unwavering commitment to reaching as many people as possible through her music. Ella’s desire to connect with her audience led her to perform not just in prestigious concert halls but also in more accessible venues like nightclubs and theaters. She believed that her music had the power to touch lives and sought to share it with diverse audiences, regardless of their socio-economic background or musical preferences.

Her ability to improvise and reinvent herself

Another crucial aspect of Ella Fitzgerald’s career highlighted in the book is her exceptional ability to improvise and continually reinvent herself. Ella embraced various styles of music, from big band swing to bebop, showcasing her versatility and adaptability as an artist. She fearlessly explored new musical territories and transformed songs with her unique improvisational skills. This willingness to push boundaries and embrace change played a significant role in her growth as a musician.

Her Song Books series and respect for standards

Ella’s iconic Song Books series showcased her deep respect for the Great American Songbook and her dedication to honoring the standards of the jazz and popular music genres. Through these albums, Ella breathed new life into classic songs and paid homage to the composers and lyricists who shaped American music. Her commitment to preserving these timeless songs demonstrated her reverence for the art form and solidified her status as a custodian of jazz tradition.

Blurring the line between entertainment and art

Ella Fitzgerald’s performances blur the line between entertainment and art, as emphasized in ‘Becoming Ella Fitzgerald.’ For Ella, these two notions were not mutually exclusive but were intrinsically connected. She believed that entertainment could serve a profound purpose by providing joy, inspiration, and even teaching moments for her audience. Ella’s ability to captivate crowds with her magnetic presence and emotionally resonant performances elevated her music beyond mere entertainment and established her as an artist with a transformative impact.

The Great Improviser: PW Talks with Judith Tick

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Teaching through her performances

Throughout her career, Ella Fitzgerald used her performances as a means of imparting wisdom and teaching valuable lessons. Onstage, she demonstrated the importance of living in the moment, embracing spontaneity, and embracing one’s true self. Ella’s authenticity and vulnerability were her greatest teaching tools, as she showed audiences the power of vulnerability and the transformative nature of embracing one’s unique gifts. Her performances went beyond entertainment, leaving audiences inspired and enlightened.

Promising Fiction Debuts This Fall

10 noteworthy fiction debuts

This fall, the literary world is abuzz with the arrival of several promising fiction debuts. From fresh voices to unique storytelling approaches, these debut novels are sure to captivate readers. Whether you’re a fan of literary fiction, thrillers, or historical sagas, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant and diverse selection of debut works.

Upcoming releases to watch out for

In the upcoming months, there are several highly anticipated fiction releases that should be on every reader’s radar. From established authors to promising newcomers, the literary landscape is brimming with exciting new books. If you’re looking to expand your reading list and discover compelling stories, these upcoming releases are a perfect place to start.

Noteworthy Nonfiction Debuts This Fall

10 notable nonfiction debuts

Nonfiction readers have much to anticipate this fall, as a wealth of debut works is set to hit the shelves. From memoirs to investigative journalism, these debut nonfiction books offer fresh perspectives on a range of topics, from personal stories to societal issues. For those seeking thought-provoking and informative reads, these noteworthy nonfiction debuts are not to be missed.

Exciting new books to add to your reading list

Fall brings with it a wave of captivating nonfiction releases, set to expand readers’ horizons and explore a diverse array of subjects. Whether you’re interested in history, science, biographies, or social justice, the upcoming nonfiction books offer an abundance of engrossing reads. With their unique perspectives and engaging narratives, these new releases are guaranteed to enrich your reading list.

Books to Make You a Better Writer

10 books to improve your writing skills

Whether you’re an aspiring writer or someone looking to enhance their writing abilities, there are numerous books available that offer invaluable advice and insights. This curated list of books covers various aspects of the writing process, from honing your craft to navigating the publishing industry. By immersing yourself in these informative and inspiring works, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better writer.

Insightful advice and tips for writers

Writing is a craft that requires constant learning and growth. Luckily, there are countless resources available to help writers navigate the intricacies of their chosen art form. These books offer instructive advice, practical tips, and inspiring anecdotes that will empower writers in their creative journeys. Whether you’re a novice writer or a seasoned pro, these works are sure to leave a lasting impact on your writing process.

Excellent and Unexpected Jane Austen Homages

10 Austen-inspired books you need to read

Jane Austen’s works continue to captivate readers worldwide, and her influence extends beyond her original novels. Many authors have been inspired by Austen’s wit, social commentary, and memorable characters, crafting their own stories in homage to her literary legacy. This selection of Austen-inspired books offers a variety of fresh perspectives on Austen’s world and legacy, making them essential reads for all Austen enthusiasts.

Fresh takes on classic Austen themes

For those seeking a blend of classic Austen themes with fresh and inventive storytelling, there are countless books that pay homage to Austen’s work while adding their own unique touch. From modern retellings to speculative fiction and historical spin-offs, these Austen-inspired books breathe new life into familiar stories. Exploring themes of love, societal expectations, and personal growth, these novels offer a delightful twist on Austen’s timeless narratives.

Author Interview: Judith Tick

Insights and reflections from Judith Tick

An exclusive interview with Judith Tick, the author of ‘Becoming Ella Fitzgerald,’ where she shares insights and reflections on the writing process and the fascinating world of Ella Fitzgerald. In this interview, Tick offers a behind-the-scenes look at the research and inspiration behind the book, shedding light on Ella’s life and career from a unique perspective.

Behind the scenes of writing ‘Becoming Ella Fitzgerald’

Get a glimpse behind the scenes of the writing process for ‘Becoming Ella Fitzgerald.’ In this interview, author Judith Tick reveals the challenges and joys of researching and crafting a comprehensive biography of a music legend. From accessing personal archives to uncovering hidden stories, Tick shares the journey of bringing Ella Fitzgerald’s remarkable life to the page.

Ella Fitzgerald’s Musical Oeuvre

A comprehensive look at Ella’s discography

Delve into the vast discography of Ella Fitzgerald, one of the most prolific and influential vocalists of the 20th century. From her early recordings with the Chick Webb Orchestra to her iconic collaborations with Louis Armstrong, this comprehensive overview takes readers on a musical journey through Ella’s diverse repertoire. Explore the evolution of her sound and the timeless recordings that solidified her status as the First Lady of Song.

Highlighting her most iconic songs and albums

Ella Fitzgerald’s musical legacy is marked by numerous iconic songs and albums that have stood the test of time. From her sublime interpretations of the Great American Songbook to her groundbreaking live performances, these selections showcase Ella at her best. With her unparalleled vocal prowess and unique artistic vision, these songs and albums remain beloved classics in the realm of jazz and beyond.