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cELLAbrate! is exactly as advertised. Vickie Smith’s newest recording celebrates the memory and irreplaceable talent of the “Queen of Scat,” Ella Fitzgerald. Smith, a Bloomfield, New Jersey-based big band and cabaret singer, draws music for cELLAbrate! from two tribute shows that she performs in the greater New York City area, “Ella!—The Song is You!” and “Ella and Duke—Love You Madly!” The twelve songs are all standards from the Great American Songbook, or drawn from big band classics composed and/or arranged by Duke Ellington.
A prudent choice on Smith’s part is that she does not try to imitate Ella Fitzgerald. For starters, Smith does not scat on most of the tunes and relegates much of the improvisatory work to her sidemen. She does take an interesting exploratory trek on Jobim’s “So Danco Samba,” including quoting the melody from his “Girl from Ipanema.” Smith also does very capable vocalease covering a solo on “How High the Moon,” and she also sings more than a mouthful while performing Jon Hendricks’ pyrotechnic vocalease on Ben Webster’s solo, the saxophone solo and the head on Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail.” In addition to the aforementioned pieces, other standouts are Smith’s renditions of “Oh Lady Be Good,” “What Am I Here For,” and “In a Mellow Tone.”
To this listener, the tour de force in Vickie Smith’s tribute to Ella Fitzgerald is that she delivers the songs on the recording with much the same upbeat ebullient spirit that was a regular focus of many of Fitzgerald’s performances. Smith retains the spirit of Fitzgerald’s artistry without resorting to trying to be Ella Fitzgerald, maintains her own performing persona, and avoids the pitfall of evolving into a substandard imitation. For the fan of straight-ahead singers backed by the simplicity of a solid three-piece rhythm section, Vickie Smith’s cELLAbrate! will be a most enjoyable recording. For those not fortunate enough to live in proximity to hear Smith live, the recording certainly provides a satisfying serving of her talents.
Track Listing: Oh Lady Be Good, Love You Madly, Dedicated to You, Cottontail, How High The Moon, Undecided, So Danco Samba, What Am I Here For, Takin' A Chance On Love, Just Squeeze Me, I'm Beginning To See The Light, In A Mellow Tone
Personnel: Vickie Smith, vocals; Bob de Benedette, piano; Ron Naspo, bass; Rick Visone, drums
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.