“The turntable, which I now use only on very special occasions, is spinning a very special vinyl at 33 1/3 rpm Tuesday afternoon. It is April 25, 2017 — the 100th birthday of America’s “First Lady of Song,” the jazz legend known around the world by just her first name. She was Ella.
Ella is singing with Duke Ellington’s iconic big band in the climactic final song of a four-record album that producers unabashedly titled “The Greatest Jazz Concert in the World.” Ellington kicked off a hyper-fast version of his swinging “Cotton Tail.” It climaxes with Ella and tenor sax legend Paul Gonsalves inventing and trading blazing solos — Ella’s scatting, Gonsalves’ saxxing.
At first, I was thinking “Jazz at the Philharmonic” producer Norman Granz got that title just right back in the 1970s. But then I realized I actually know about not just one but two of Ella’s other performances that, in their own way, may have been even greater than this famous “greatest” one.
The first story came to mind as I listened to that old record Tuesday. Because it also features Ella, Ellington, Gonsalves and “Cotton Tail.” But while this performance didn’t end like the one I’d just listened to on vinyl, it was a night when one of Ella’s fondest wishes came true.“