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Equinox

Monday, 8-11pm
  • Hosted by Duante Beddingfield

Equinox, which takes its name from the classic John Coltrane composition, is a weekly, three-hour jazz radio show. Each Monday night, host Duante Beddingfield will lead listeners on a journey through straight-head jazz, from classic tracks to the latest releases, including local musicians, obscure performers, and artists from all over the world putting their own unique stamp on the music.

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Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

By the 1950s, Billie Holiday was known as a peerless blues singer among jazz musicians. However, in 1963, Ella Fitzgerald did something Billie never achieved - she recorded an entire album of only blues songs.

1963's These Are the Blues found a hard-swinging Ella in a mostly straightforward tilt at classic blues cuts, with a band led by Wild Bill Davis on organ and featuring Roy Eldridge on trumpet, Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Gus Johnson on drums.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

From 1962's Ella Swings Gently with Nelson, the second of two albums Ella Fitzgerald recorded that year with arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle, comes this sizzling rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's 1930 standard "Georgia On My Mind." The song was covered by many musicians through the 1960s after Ray Charles' timeless version went to the top of the charts in 1960, and Ella and Nelson's version may be among the very finest efforts.

The production on this album is stunning, with Riddle's orchestra sounding like 100 musicians playing in glorious unison. He charts a seductive, dynamic arrangement that goes from cinematic big band jazz to swaggering blues, with shouting horns and a perfectly in-the-pocket alto sax solo by Ronny Lang.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

In 1962, Verve Records released Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's smash hit Jazz Samba album and set the world aflame, bringing the bossa nova out of Brazil and sending it around the world, claiming an Album of the Year Grammy for Getz's "Desafinado."

Recording companies and artists in every language began recording bossa tunes to ride the wave of popularity, and Verve attempted to cash in on the craze with many of its own in-house jazz musicians. Ella Fitzgerald fell instantly in love with the genre, and in that same year released a two-sided bossa single. Side A featured an English-language cover of "Desafinado," with a Brazilian-flavored take on the classic "Stardust" on the flipside.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

One of the earliest entries in Ella Fitzgerald's nearly six-decade career is "All My Life," recorded with pianist and bandleader Teddy Wilson. The song was written by Sam H. Stept and Sidney Mitchell for a film called Laughing Irish Eyes, where it wass debuted by Phil Regan.

This outing, recorded in New York on St. Patrick's Day, 1936, is a fascinating look back at where jazz - at the time considered pop music - was in the 1930s and how far Ella's style came afterward. Heard through today's perspective, the standout here isn't Ella, it's a couple of the band members, and Ella gives what seems to be the standard, oddly intonated, high and somewhat nasal type of vocal that was the standard in the 1920s and through the late 1930s, as popularized by singers like Rudy Vallee.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser's classic "Heart and Soul," known to piano students the world over, was one of many solid recordings made during Ella Fitzgerald's peak period but went unreleased for decades.

This shimmering string arrangement was recorded in 1961 during her Harold Arlen Songbook sessions. It's not a Harold Arlen song, so perhaps it was meant for another album, or perhaps it was meant for release as a single and got shelved instead. It was one of a number of recordings that didn't see daylight for the first time until 1993's First Lady of Song box set, which celebrated some of her finest material from the years she spent at Verve Records.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

A little-known novelty song in Ella Fitzgerald's catalogue, "Ringo Beat" was a "tribute from the elder generation — a jazz grande dame trying to get with the times," as described in Rob Sheffield's 2017 book Dreaming the Beatles.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Today, the song that made me fall in love with Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella loved every kind of music, voraciously listening to almost anything she came across and equally enjoying rock, soul, classical, and Latin music alongside her home base of jazz. As her career began and peaked with regular new takes on the day's popular songs--at that time, big band and jazz standards, and new Broadway hits), she never lost interest in tackling current material, plucking tunes from the pop charts well into the 1980s and sprinkling them into her formidable repertoire.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Very few are aware that Ella Fitzgerald's first #1 single - preceding her famous "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" (which we'll discuss later) - was recorded with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. 1937's "Goodnight My Love," introduced the previous in a Shirley Temple film, was one of a small group of sides Ella and Benny cut together.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Old pals Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong teamed up in the late 1940s when she was on the Decca label, but it's their three albums for Verve Records that are most remembered. The first of those, 1956's Ella and Louis (note that Ella was such a huge star at the time that she was billed ahead of beloved living legend Armstrong), was so pristine and so well received that a year ago, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

1964's Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook, despite often being forgotten among her Verve output, is a beautiful work that is significant for many reasons: it was her fifth and final collaboration with Nelson Riddle arranging and conducting, it was the final entry in her Songbook series, it's the only Songbook album that focused on the work of a lyricist.

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