The neo-pop divas of the late 20th century may have turned up the glamour, and a few even introduced formidable technical prowess, epitomized by Mariah Carey's seemingly helium-induced falsetto (the bane of canine fans eve... more »rywhere) or Celine Dion's breast-beating, stentorian climaxes. Yet only a few verses from an earlier, charter member of the first-name-only club provides instant perspective: when Ella opened her mouth, that perfectly pitched, luminous voice could leap octaves without breaking a sweat, its tonal purity and immaculate phrasing creating that illusion of "effortlessness" achieved only through true artistry. Writer-director Charlotte Zwerin performs similar sleight of hand with this beautifully composed documentary, originally produced for public television's American Masters series. Created nearly four years after Ella Fitzgerald's death, Zwerin's film uses the lush voice and superb repertoire of "the First Lady of Song" to provide continuity while assembling convincing, if composite, narrative quotes gleaned from various interviews. The latter are noteworthy given the singer's lifelong modesty and insistence on privacy. Archival footage of early performances, as well as later television appearances, capture Ella's pilgrimage from Depression-era New York, through her discovery at the Apollo Theater and subsequent emergence as a swing vocalist and on to her long career as a matchless pop and jazz stylist. Tony Bennett is a sympathetic narrator, while added affection and insight are provided through interviews with some of the myriad jazz titans that accompanied her. Yet, ultimately, it's Ella's music, generously featured throughout, that proves most eloquent. As one of her definitive Gershwin favorites put it, "'Swonderful." --Sam Sutherland« less
"It's way past time that something like this was released about Ella. This video contains lots of performance footage from various TV appearances and live concerts. I was very pleased to find that the emphasis is on live footage rather than simply on narration with various still shots and otherwise available, already well-known commercial recordings playing in the background. Of course there is quite a bit of narration, but the emphasis is still on Ella performing. We even get to see "alternative" performances of some commercially available live recordings that will be well-known to Ella fans. For example, there is a clip of her performing at Ronnie Scott's in London doing her parody of country music and "Soul Train" music. (It is a different version from the one on her "Ella in London" recording, and very funny.) There is also a video clip from her performance with Count Basie's orchestra at Montreux in '79, singing part of "Basella" and trading fours with Eric Dixon and Mitchell "Bootie" Woods. (In this case, it is the same performance as the commercial audio recording, but the video gives additional insight into Ella's performing style for Ella fans.) I enjoyed the video very much and can highly recommend it to both casual and hardcore fans (who might already have most of her commercial recordings) of Ella Fitzgerald. You will find several new things here."
"SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR" IS ELLA'S VOICE!!!!!
Bradly Briggs | TOLUCA LAKE, CALIFORNIA | 05/22/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Luckily I was able to see Ella In Concert numerous times throughout the 70's and 80's and was honored to have her autograph two L.P.'s by her limousine after a concert she gave at the Junior College I attended at the time in 1972...Ella was kind and gracious and that quailty plus her brilliant artistry really come through and shine in this stunning documentary of her life and incomparable career. Tony Bennett is the perfect choice to narrate this magnificent "American Masters" production and his love of Ella comes through and adds alot of soul to the special. Performance footage is ultimately what becomes breathtaking to experience and when Ella sings the classic "Something To Live For" it is breathtakingly beautiful and completely haunting. The use of concert footage from the various stages of her career show that Ella found joy in sharing her gift with her audience and songs like "For Once In My Life" become life experiences that are emotionally engrossing and technically brilliant. This "American Masters" special is a keeper so for anyone who loves the legendary Ella get this historical work fast while it is available as this is the definitive work about the life and career of this wonderous and gifted talent...BRAVO ELLA and thank you are all the wonderful years of sublime singing and you are truly missed!!!"
The First Lady of Song, from teenager to legend.
Mary Whipple | New England | 10/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This exciting, 86-minute video of Ella Fitzgerald's life and career, directed by Charlotte Zwerin, highlights aspects of her private life and combines that personal story with extensive footage of some of her early performances. Narrated by Tony Bennett, and containing excerpts from her long interview with Andre Previn, the bio ranges widely in time and place, filling in important biographical information, at the same time that it focuses on her development as a singer.
From her earliest days when she was an aspiring dancer, we learn of her difficulties at home, and following the death of her mother, her possible abuse by her stepfather. After escaping from a girls' reformatory, she goes on the road with Chick Webb, who mentors her, and following his death she gets the "greatest education I've ever had"--singing bebop. Playing the role of a horn (vocally), she learns to imitate its sound exactly, with her perfect pitch, and it is through this imitation of the trumpet that she creates and becomes an expert on scat.
Norman Granz, who became her manager from 1953 through her death in 1997, makes jazz "classy," refusing to allow racial discrimination in the halls where Ella performs, arranging performances of jazz at the Philharmonic, and making his musicians feel important. Through the Great American Songbook series which he arranges for her, Ella gains many new fans, and her numerous TV performances make her name a household word.
Wonderful clips of Ella singing with Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong (who cracks her up), Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, a Mel Torme so young his voice is still almost soprano, and even in a trio with Joan Sutherland and Dinah Shore, show Ella as a trouper, having fun, enjoying the company of these other famous stars, and always hitting every note.
Though she had a difficult personal life, Ella, as seen here, is often playful, singing wild country and western and a "soul" piece at a London concert, a terrific medley of children's songs with Bing Crosby, in which she sings scat while he whistles, and even an amazing tune in which she sings virtually every instrument in the band.
Many of her most famous songs are featured: "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Misty," 1968's "Summertime," "Lady is a Tramp" with Frank Sinatra, and "Azure (In An Azure Mood)." Showing Ella on the road during her entire 58-year career, this video brings her to life once again and inspires our even greater appreciation. Mary Whipple "
Musically, smooth as silk.
Chris Aldridge | Washington, DC USA | 11/02/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I grew up watching Ms. Fitzgerald in the glass-shattering "Memorex" commercials which are included in this DVD. Even at that age her voice was something to behold. The quintessential Ella moment comes three minutes into the DVD- after the credits- as she flawlessly renders the torch song "Lover Man" dressed in basic black. This documentary captures Ella's golden era- before the various medical problems. As was mentioned earlier the documentary itself has gaps, as certain years and decades are skimmed over and not all scenes are identified or captioned. But music and singer are stunning, showing a buoyant, incredibly shy woman, beautifully full of figure, whose silky voice positively resonates. There are also clips of a 1979 interview from Andre Previn and marvelous recollections from her bandmates- including one who remembers her being able to break into song on the tour bus and silence all of her fellow musicians. (The song heard is Duke Ellington's "Azure Mood"). The TV show clips are what you really want to see: performances with Nat "King" Cole, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme', Dinah Shore and Joan Sutherland, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and most memorable a parry-and-thrust duet with Frank Sinatra on "The Lady Is A Tramp" from his 1967 special. A platinum time capsule of a timeless perfomer."
Lots of music, too little information
davidschildkret | Winston-Salem, NC USA | 10/22/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The glory of this documentary is that most of it is Ella Fitzgerald herself, singing and entertaining. Though it is reverent, it avoids gushing, relying instead on Ella's singing (spectacular, of course) to make the point. There are bits of interviews with some of Ella's intimates, which shed some light on the person behind the scat singing.But there are enormous gaps, and I found myself wanting a bit more rigorous history: what, for example, was Ella up to during World War II? The documentary skips over this, going from 1937 to 1947 in a single bound. What was Ella's last public appearance? The documentary doesn't tell us, and for a baffling moment we're left to wonder how a double amputation could possibly be kept a secret.That said, the technical quality of the film is superb: both sound and image are wonderful. And when all is said and done, a 90-minute retrospective of the greatest singer of the 20th century, with not too much talk and lots of music, is a fine thing."