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Ella 101: Ella Hums the Blues (Day 29 of 101)

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.

Along with being one of the greatest voices of all time, Ella Fitzgerald was celebrated as one of the world's most talented scat singers - "scatting" being the art of wordless vocal improvisation, essentially an instrumental solo in vocal form.

This track, "Ella Hums the Blues," is the one I chose to play during my Ella 101 on-air promo that runs on WYSO FM. It was recorded in April 1955 for the movie Pete Kelly's Blues, in which Ella has a cameo as a jazz singer. (We'll come back to Pete Kelly's Blues, with more info, in tomorrow's post.)

For five minutes, Ella sings without singing an actual word in any language, as Don Abney (piano), Joe Mondragon (bass), and Larry Bunker (drums) gently accompany. Ella said more than once during her career that when she sang, she thought of herself as a horn as tried to do what horn players did instead of imitating other singers. That intent is on full display here; as you listen, imagine a saxophone playing those notes.

It's a simple blues structure, a few minutes of unrehearsed music with no actual melody, tossed off like it's nothing...and it's sublime. She makes it seem so effortless, the notes pouring out of her like water from a pitcher.

It takes a very unique talent, above and beyond being a good singer, to make that happen.


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.

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Duante Beddingfield, a Dayton native, has hosted Equinox since 2018; he now records the show from his home in Michigan, where he works as arts and culture reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Previously, he served as jazz writer for both the Dayton Daily News and Dayton City Paper, booked jazz acts for area venues such as Pacchia and Wholly Grounds, and performed regularly around the region as a jazz vocalist; Beddingfield was the final jazz headliner to play Dayton's legendary Gilly's nightclub.