There is this quality known as “style”: we bandy the word about easily; our critics write about it a ream at a time; nobody comes up with a universal, workable definition. Whatever it is, however, it is what inundated Hollywood Bowl and itsĀ  happy visitors on Wednesday night, when Ella Fitzgerald came to sing.
To me, style is above all a matter of residence. The great singers — and Fitzgerald is surely one — have a way of living inside a song, of flinging open its windows in high delight, and inviting us all in to look in and look around. Not all singers have this knack, and maybe it isn’t crucial to a successful career. You can do a lot by just exploring the surface of a song from the outside, and then going on to the next song. And the next. Many do.
The great stylists go further. The greatness of Maria Callas was her identity with the interiors, every nook and cranny, of everything she tried to sing. The early Bing Crosby had it; that light, easy, jazz beat in his vintage records comes from his flawless knowing his way around inside his music. Sinatra had it in his prime, which is why connoisseurs of classical and popular music alike sit enthralled at his record of “One for my Baby.” That’s style.
I meant this report as a love letter to Ella Fitzgerald for the way she lit lights at the Bowl this week; I’m sorry it’s turning into a scholarly dissertation. Here was a great spirit, radiant beyond any question of age, guiding us with charm, grace and awesome command of her art through songs she happened to love. She was in great form. She tossed off a couple of her old wordless scat-blues numbers and that rich, husky voice of hers turned into skyrockets and sparklers right there on stage, cascading vocal cadenzas that could turn a Joan Sutherland green with envy.
But she also got all the way inside some of the red-hot lyricism from some of the great jazz composers who flourished during her many years. Just the opening melodic gambit of Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me,” was worth the trip: that twisting, sinuous sine curve of a melody. She took on some of the songs that Billie Holiday used to break hearts with — “That Devil Love,” and “More Than You Know” — and broke hearts all over again. And then there was “Love for Sale” and a great,.sly romp through “The Lady Is a Tramp,” and some more sad songs and some more joyous ones.
It was a loving, generous evening. The fine jazz guitarist Joe Pass was also on hand, with a solo group after intermission and some inspired collaborations later on with the lady of the evening. The lady was obviously having a ball, a big buddy-buddy act involving the musicians on stage, theĀ  crowd of 14,600-or-so out front, the folks from Nissan who sponsor these Wednesday jazz jamborees at the Bowl — and for all anyone knows, another happy bunch of listeners, gathered in the next county but still within earshot.

This entry was posted in Herald Examiner. Bookmark the permalink.