Carter Honors First Lady of Song with Fitzgerald Tribute Album

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Regina Carter will release Ella: Accentuate The Positive, a tribute to vocal legend Ella Fitzgerald, on April 21. (Photo: ©2014 Barbara Barefield)

April marks the centennial anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald, an artist whose musical savvy and joyous delivery set a new standard for jazz singing and served as a powerful example of what it means to be a trailblazing female jazz musician. Fellow groundbreaker Regina Carter will honor the legendary vocalist with the forthcoming release of Ella: Accentuate The Positive, a new album from OKeh/Sony Music Masterworks.

The violinist’s new record will be made available worldwide on April 21, just four days before Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday.

Carter said the album was a testament to Fitzgerald’s profound influence, which the violinist said was a guiding force in the direction of her own musical career. And while the album is reverent in nature, Carter has largely steered clear of the vocalist’s most recognizable hits. Instead, she has mined tunes from deep within Fitzgerald’s catalog, bringing them to the surface with distinct freshness.

Carter said she hoped this approach would demonstrate the breadth of Fitzgerald’s impact, drawing in new listeners in the process.

“One of the many things that I adore about Ella is that she just loved music and didn’t box herself in,” Carter explained in a press statement. “She recorded everything, not just the American Songbook—doo-wop, Stevie Wonder and Beatles songs, even some country & western music. The fact that she experimented with so many different styles made me feel that, with this record, I would pay respect to her by taking the music and doing something else with it. I feel that she would smile in agreement.”

Carter said her artistic vision for the album entailed projecting Fitzgerald’s songs through a prism of classic 1950s-’60s soul and blues. To do so, Carter recruited an impressive roster of musicians and arrangers, including bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Alvester Garnett. She is also joined by pianist Xavier Davis and guitarist Marvin Sewell. Bassist Ben Williams, producer and hitmaker Ray Angry and renowned vocalist Charenée Wade also make appearances, as does pianist Mike Wofford, who worked with Fitzgerald and served as her musical director.

Among the additional guests are a pair of Carter’s longtime friends from her native Detroit: vocalists Miche Braden and Carla Cook, who first introduced Carter to jazz violin while the two were classmates at Cass Technical School.

“When people arrange tunes, their voices become part of the recording as well,” Carter said. “I wanted to have many voices and many stylistic approaches on this record.”

Carter has paid homage to Fitzgerald in the past, most recently on her 2006 release I’ll Be Seeing You (Verve), on which she covered the vocalist’s classic rendition of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” Among the Fitzgerald numbers covered on Accentuate The Positive are the poignant “I’ll Never be Free,” a paired-down and deeply moving “Dedicated To You” and a rootsy take on “I’ll Chase The Blues Away.” 

A former student of classical violin, Carter discovered jazz and soul by browsing her parents’ record collection. It was through that trove of albums that she first heard Fitzgerald and was instantly hooked.

“Something about her voice made me feel like I had a personal connection,” Carter said. “When she sang, I felt really warm and safe, almost a maternal connection. It just felt like love … She had an incredible voice and I gained a lot of respect for her along with the love I had always felt. For years, I would get up and put on an Ella track first thing in the morning. That was the way I needed to start off my day.”

Carter will perform at the Jazz Standard in New York City on May 18–21. For a full list of Carter’s upcoming tour dates, visit her website. DB


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July 2017
Bill Frisell
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