Ann Hampton Callaway honors jazz great Ella Fitzgerald in Beaver Creek
VAIL CO, Colorado
The first time Ann Hampton Callaway heard Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, she was a toddler, living with her parents in Chicago, and Ella’s signature scat solo in “How High the Moon” filled the small child’s world.
“Whenever it played on our turntable, our tiny walk-up in Chicago became a musical paradise,” Callaway wrote in a story about her 10 favorite Fitzgerald songs for jazztimes.com. “Many of my favorite Ella moments are on her live recordings, as she seems to sing with the greatest abandon before her beloved audiences.”
Just 3-years-old at the time, Callaway started mimicking the scat singing she heard echoing through the house.
“She had such a joyful, childlike enthusiasm,” Callaway said during a phone interview this week. “And as a kid, she sounded like my friend. Most singers are known for their angst, but there aren’t many who have unbridled joy like Ella.”
As a jazz singer herself, Callaway wants to “live in a world where everyone knows who Ella Fitzgerald is. As Jefferson is to the Constitution, as Da Vinci is to the Renaissance, Ella Fitzgerald is to American jazz,” Callaway wrote in that same article.
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When Fitzgerald passed away in 1996, it was “How High the Moon” from the album “Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin” (Verve, 1960) that Callaway chose to sing at New York’s Carnegie Hall, at a celebration of Fitzgerald’s life. The same stage where Fitzgerald performed her final concert in 1991, at age 74.
“It’s the song she’s most known for, and I really enjoy singing my tribute to her,” Callaway said.
That’s one of many Fitzgerald songs Callaway will perform Sunday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, during a multimedia tribute to Lady Ella, as Fitzgerald was known. Callaway will tell stories, show video clips and sing Fitzgerald’s favorite tunes.
To create the hour-and-a-half long tribute, Callaway worked with jazz historian Tom Cunniffe.
“He found spectacular clips of her,” Callaway said. “I try to paint this portrait of who Ella was, and this remarkable career she had. It’s kind of like a movie, the whole show feels like a movie, like a little movie musical.”
Accompanying Callaway on stage will be Ted Rosenthal on piano, Tom Kennedy on bass and Ernie Adams on drums. Trombone great, Wycliffe Gordon, will also perform.
The event is part of the Vail Jazz Festival’s inaugural Winter Jazz Series. And the idea for the tribute, which Callaway first performed at the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend in 2010, came from Howard Stone, the founder of the Vail Jazz Festival.
Stone chose Callaway to perform the tribute because not only is she “an extraordinary, talented vocalist,” but because she was also greatly influenced by Fitzgerald. Callaway even recorded a tribute album, “To Ella With Love,” which was released shortly after Fitzgerald died.
“(Ann) combines a great voice with passion for the subject matter, along with a wonderful stage presents that allows her to tell the compelling story – through words, song and video – of Ella’s life,” Stone said.
The Vail Jazz Festival has been around for 17 years, so it’s meaningful when Stone identifies Callaway’s 2010 tribute to Fitzgerald as “one of the most memorable shows we have ever presented.”
“It successfully combined all three elements of the presentation format so that the audience truly understood why Ella was known as the ‘first lady of song’ and why she was so loved by her audiences throughout the world,” Stone said. “(Ann) literally had the audience in tears at one point.”
For the past decade, the Vail Jazz Festival has presented multimedia tributes to some of the greatest jazz musicians “who have contributed to America’s musical gift to the world – jazz,” Stone said.
“We developed the performance concept that combines the music (and song) of a great artist, along with a narrative that tells the story of the life of the artist while presenting classic video of the artist’s performances, so these giants of jazz can be understood and appreciated by all,” he continued.
Honoring the jazz greats is an important part of what the Vail Jazz Festival does, Stone said.
“This is our heritage,” he said. “Ella and others created an American style of music that will live on long after we are gone. This is the classical music of the 20th century and we need to preserve this music and the histories of the legends that created it for future generations.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2984.