The Hollywood Bowl held another Ella Fitzgerald love fest last week, with 16, 012 partisans giving the now-fragile jazz singer 103% support, whooping and howling at the slightest provocation.
Sad as it is to write, one could not pretend that the audience heard vintage Fitzgerald that night. Her matchlessly flexible voice has lost some of its elasticity, particularly at soft volume levels, and she couldn’t sustain lengthy notes without a noticeable quiver. (These problems had begun to crop up on her most recent record, “All That Jazz,” on Pablo, 1989.)
Yet Fitzgerald, now 74, still has the stamina to perform two full sets, reaching into her bottomless repertoire, refreshing old memories.
One was reminded of the last concerts of another legend, Andres Segovia, who kept coming back year after year into his 90s, squeezing out every last ounce of music he had left.
Fitzgerald could still summon forth her long experience to bounce on the swing of Benny Carter’s orchestra, to weave in and out and all around the melodies–the things she always did best.
In general, perennial swingers like “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Mack the Knife” came off better than the ballads.
One need not make any allowances for the 84-year-old Carter.
As he did for Fitzgerald at the Bowl two years ago, Carter put together another solid, punchy band, marked by a rich, gritty sound in the lower registers of the saxes.
Flaunting the bench strength of his band, Carter democratically spread the solos around in “How High the Moon” during the band’s 46-minute solo set.
The band also performed a remarkable Billy Byers chart, “Pure Fitzgerald,” based entirely on a scat solo that Fitzgerald once improvised.
Carter’s alto sax could still swing inventively on “Vine Street Rumble” or cast a honeyed spell on “Evening Star,” and he provided some warm obbligatos to a few of Fitzgerald’s vocals.
In the latter moments, they seemed linked in artistic communion, two survivors who have seen most of jazz’s history pass before them but still have the urge to say more.