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Ella Plays Dice

Eve Goldberg By

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Houston 1955

According to saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, a Houston native who was one of those arrested at the Music Hall, the night's events had a definite effect on racism in his home town: from that time on, nightclubs around the city became noticeably more tolerant and open to integrated audiences. "I'm proud of what I did because I had no choice," Jacquet said. "I wanted to do it for the younger people that were coming up. Whatever I could do to improve our standards of life. I thought that was the appropriate thing to do, and it worked."

As for Ella Fitzgerald and Norman Granz, October 7, 1955, in Houston would become one memorable—and meaningful—night in a decades-long relationship that would in many ways define both of their careers.

Granz became Fitzgerald's manager in 1954. Combining his business savvy with her musical genius, they produced some of the most beloved recordings in the history of American popular music. He was instrumental in bringing together the First Lady of Song with the Ambassador of Jazz, Louis Armstrong. Their 1956 album of duets, Ella and Louis, is considered a pinnacle of 20th Century popular music. Granz also arranged for Ella to tour Europe, and he produced live recordings of those tours. Ella In Berlin, in which she brings down the house with her cleverly improvised "Mack The Knife," is perhaps her most acclaimed LP.

Granz also produced a series of eight classic "Songbook" albums, in which Ella's incomparable voice and interpretive skills are paired with the legendary songs of Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, and Jerome Kern.

"Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians," wrote New York Times columnist Frank Rich. "She performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis's contemporaneous integration of white and African-American soul."

Ira Gershwin remarked, "I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them."

Jazz At The Philharmonic continued until 1983. Granz and Fitzgerald continued their collaboration for over 40 years. She died in 1996. He died in 2001. The music lives on.
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