Ella Fitzgerald Tells of Trouble in Mind Concerning Discs, Television


Ella Fitzgerald (1917–’96)

(Photo: Verve)

“We had a request to sing,” Ella began over the applause—and suddenly she stopped. “You know,” she grinned, “we really didn’t have a request. This is just our next number.” Ella had displayed again the candor that has been hers for 20 years in the music big leagues.

Yet, despite this open-hearted honesty, very little is known about what Ella really thinks on subjects closest to her career and emotions. For, except with intimate friends, Ella is one of the shyest people in the entertainment business.

Backstage one night at Basin Street, however, Ella relaxed and spoke openly of several things that long have troubled her.

Potential Scope

Ella, though she underrates herself, is conscious of the warm esteem in which she’s held, and often revered, over much of the world. But she is also conscious of the potential scope of her vocal skill and warmth, a potential that never has been realized as fully as it deserves—for reasons that have nothing to do with her undeniable talent.

Take records, for example. Ella has in her repertoire an arrangement of “Teach Me Tonight,” one of the current pop best-sellers, that is musically a delight and is as commercial as any direct expression of emotion (with close attention to the melody line) can be.

Yet she has not had a chance to record the number for Decca, nor does she often get a chance to record any really “hot” pop material for the label.

“And,” Ella adds, “it’s been so long since I’ve gotten a show tune to do, except for the album. Or a chance to do a tune like ‘The Man That Got Away.’ Frank Sinatra came into Basin Street often while he was at the Copa, and he asked for that song every time. And he also asked, ‘How come, Ella, you don’t have a number like that to record?’”

‘Don’t Know Why Myself’

“I don’t know why myself,” Ella told him. “Yet I never do get a chance at the songs that have a chance. They give me something by somebody that no one else has, and then they wonder why the record doesn’t sell.

“I’m so heart-broken over it. Maybe it’s me, but there are so many pretty songs I could sing on record. I need a record out. I know that, but I don’t know what they’re doing at the record company. There must be something I can make that people who buy records would like to hear.

“The album (Ella, Decca 12” LPDL 8068) was something I was pleased with. It got such wonderful write-ups, and I remember when I was on the coast it seemed like everybody was playing it. But the disc jockeys claimed that the company didn’t give them the record. In fact, we had to go out and buy the record and give it to those disc jockeys that didn’t have it.”

What’s the Main Interest?

“Now I don’t like to say anything against anybody, but maybe it’s because that record company is mainly interested in pictures now that they don’t give as much attention to the records. But I sure would like to record with someone who would give me something to record.”

Then there’s the matter of Ella Fitzgerald and television. “Like every singer,” Ella said, “my ambition for a long time has been to have a TV show of my own, but,” she shook her head, “I don’t like to think too far ahead. What I mean is I don’t know anybody who has one. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?

“Sammy Davis Jr., for example. He didn’t get his show, and no one certainly could get tired of looking at him for 15 minutes. Do you remember how great he was on the ‘Colgate Comedy Hour’? And there’s Lena Horne, Jimminy Crickets! If Lena doesn’t have a show of her own! We have so many wonderful artists who deserve a TV show. But I don’t know ... the way things are ... .”

‘Someday, Maybe

“I hope someday, maybe,” Ella continued, “somewhere I can get a TV show. Even if it were just a New York program. So I could stay home a little. It’s not that I don’t like the road, but traveling all the time, year in and year out, isn’t as easy on a woman as it is on a man. And you’ve heard how guys complain about the road.

“I can dance, you know, if I get a show. I don’t say I can read lines,” she smiled again, “but for the kind of show I want to do, that wouldn’t be so necessary. I’d like a program that was like inviting the audience into my home. The feeling that Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy had on their show. It would be informal.

“One evening, for example, we could do a song two ways, fast and slow, and see which turns out better. I could have guests drop in—people like Sarah or maybe a dancer. The routines wouldn’t always have to be rehearsed, and if there were mistakes on the program, we’d just do the song or dance over again.

Commercial Twist

“If the show turned out to be a commercial one,” Ella animatedly went on, “instead of reading the same commercial every night, we could make up new words and change it every night. And as for talent, if the show wasn’t on too late, we could even have somebody drop in with some talented kids from time to time.

“I’d even write music for the program,” said ASCAP member Fitzgerald (whose credits include “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “You Showed Me The Way” and “Rough Riding”). “Lately, I’ve lost all my ambition for songwriting. Every once in a while, I do write a new song down and put it away some place, but when I go to find it, I don’t know where it is. But if I had a TV show of my own, I’d be real eager to write some music for it.

“Oh, I have gobs and gobs of ideas, but ... well, you dream things like that, and that’s what these are, you know—my day dreams.” DB