Ella 101: S'Wonderful (Day 16 of 101)

May 10, 2018

Music and television history right here...

Sunday, February 2, 1964: Ella headlines an installment of The Ed Sullivan Show that also features Sammy Davis, Jr. and Rip Taylor. (Note that even at the peak of Sammy's Rat Pack, international superstar years - he would also open his Tony-nominated run in Golden Boy a few months later - Ella was still billed above him as the bigger star.)

Ella did four songs throughout the episode, and Sammy three (including his knockout West Side Story medley accompanied only by Johnny Mendoza on bongos), and at the end, Sammy crashed her fifth song.

He demurs at the beginning, opting to sit on the end of the piano bench and watch. The admiration in his eyes is just beautiful. Ella invites him to jump in, and their interplay is adorable; they're so clearly overjoyed to be singing together that they seem like they can barely contain themselves. By the time they launch into scat and start trading eights, you know you're seeing a once-in-a-lifetime event.

And true it was; they never recorded together, and if they ever sang together at any other time, it wasn't caught on film. So ecstatic was jazz lover Ed Sullivan that even HE broke into song at the end! I can't confirm it, but as far as I'm aware, that's also the only time Ed ever sang on his show.

Roy Eldridge, one of Ella's favorite sidemen, is present here, and Tommy Flanagan on piano, with what looks like Keter Betts on bass and Gus Johnson at the drum kit.

Pardon the fact that the video slowly comes out of sync as it approaches the end, and has the intro spliced in from an obviously different source. There are several clips on YouTube of the performance, but they're all from a syndication edit that cuts out Sammy's verse and jumps straight to the scatting after Ella sings. I wanted to post the complete version.

Ella sang this song throughout her career. Look below for SIX different versions. It's great when there are so many recordings of one song spanning years in a jazz musician's catalogue, because you can really study how their approach changes with time. 

Her 1959 studio recording for the Gershwin songbook album, a much less loose and freewheeling affair, but lovely nonetheless.

A very stylish Ella singing live on The Bell Telephone Hour. The clip description says 1960, a resource I checked said she sang this song on that show in '59, but the color and film quality look much closer to mid '60s...

A kicking live version shot on kinescope in 1960. This is the same arrangement she would use in '64 on The Ed Sullivan Show.

January 19, 1964 - just a couple weeks before the Ed Sullivan performance - live in Japan. She sings the second chorus entirely in Japanese!! The crowd responds very appreciatively.

1958, live in Chicago, at a surprisingly fast tempo...

From a television special in the late '50s, dueting with Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman's band, including Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa! An insane amount of talent onscreen.

Ella 101 is a daily look at 101 essential recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, who was born 101 years ago this month. Tune in to Equinox, Monday nights from 8 - 11 p.m. on WYSO, to hear Ella and more great jazz with host Duante Beddingfield.