Tag Archives: Ella Fitzgerald

78: “Gone With “What” Wind” b/w “Blow Top” by Count Basie and His Orchestra. Okeh 5629. Recorded in New York City, 05/31/40.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1904, William “Count” Basie was raised by a musical family—his father played the mellophone and his mother the piano; she taught him how to play. Reportedly, the teenaged Basie preferred playing drums to piano, but meeting musicians like fellow Red Banker Sonny Greer, who played drums with Duke Ellington’s band, made him reconsider his musical focus. Playing piano locally lead to gigs in Harlem, and soon enough Basie was on the road with bands like Katie Krippen and Her Kiddies and Walter Page and His Blue Devils, playing in jazz hotbeds like Chicago and Kansas City.

By 1937 Basie had his own group and had returned to the east coast, settling in Woodside, Queens and soon enough playing the Roseland in Manhattan. With advice and encouragement from producer John Hammond, Basie and his Orchestrawent from being a strong road act to an orchestra that was good enough for the most critical New York audiences. In 1938, they participated in a Battle of the Bands at the Savoy against Chick Webb’s orchestra. Each band had a promising young singer—Webb had Ella Fitzgerald, and Basie had Billie Holiday.

According to Metronome magazine, Basie’s band was the victor:

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45: “Dedicated to You” b/w “You’re All I Need,” “Ev’ry Day” and “I Love You” by Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan. MGM X-1002. Recorded in 1953.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Billy Eckstine may never have pursued music had he not broken his collarbone while playing football for Howard University. It is hugely fortunate that the Pittsburgh native did, though, because not only did his sonorous baritone and musical dexterity combine to grace some incredible recordings, but those recordings would then go on to inspire and pave the way for everyone from Nat “King” Cole to Miles Davis to Sammy Davis Jr.

Newark native Sarah Vaughan agreed to accompany her friend on piano when she played the Apollo Theater talent show in 1942. It’s a very good thing that she did, because the experience encouraged her to come back and audition as a vocalist herself, winning a weeklong gig opening for Ella Fitzgerald that attracted the attention of Earl Hines. Hines asked her to join his band, which featured Eckstine on vocals. When Eckstine soon formed his own bebop big band combo—which featured Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker—he asked Sarah to join as well. She did, though she left in 1945 to pursue a solo career. Billy and Sarah remained close friends, however, and would record duets several times over the course of their careers.

Which brings us to 1953, and this lovely duet: “Dedicated to You.” The way Sarah’s vocal rises and descends on top of Billy’s around the 1:30 mark is unexpected, and shows how Sarah really used her voice like a musical instrument.

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