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Ella Fitzgerald and Bill Doggett


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By the fall of 1961, Ella Fitzgerald's recordings were sounding a bit processed and predictable. Throughout the late 1950s and into the very early '60s, the singer's studio sessions were becoming cookie-cutter—a Los Angeles studio and arrangements by Hollywood stalwarts Nelson Riddle, Billy May and Frank De Vol. But then in January 1962, Fitzgerald recorded one of her finest albums—Rhythm Is My Business (Verve), a session arranged by organist Bill Doggett and recorded in New York. [Photo above of Ella Fitzgerald in 1962 by Ian Wright]

On this album, Fitzgerald's “acting" approach to song storytelling is shelved and replaced by all-in belting, a band of studio killers, and arrangements that all but lift off the ground. The band? Ernie Royal, Taft Jordan, Ray Copeland and Joe Wilder (tp) Melba Liston, Kai Winding and Britt Woodman (tb) Phil Woods and Jerry Dodgion (as) Carl Davis and Wilmer Shakesnider, Les Taylor (saxophones), Bill Doggett (org), Hank Jones (p), Mundell Lowe (g), Lucille Dixon (b) and Gus Johnson (d).

Fitzgerald and Doggett [pictured] had a long history. He had been her pianist and music director in July 1943, when she was booked into New York's Zanzibar club on 49th and Broadway. He also filled this role on a steady basis at the end of 1944 and into 1945, when she began a weekly Saturday afternoon radio appearance on NBC.

As for Fitzgerald, she reached national acclaim with Chick Webb in the late 1930s and continued to attract attention in the 1940s. Her career began to hit new levels when Norman Granz invited her to join his Jazz at the Philharmonic concert tours. Fitzgerald's managerial relationship with Norman Granz dates back to 1953, after Granz reached into his pocket to pay off a sizable IRS tab due after Fitzgerald was mismanaged by her former manager, Moe Gale of the Gale Agency. The Songbook series of recordings for Verve starting in 1956 only queen-sized her reputation. [Photo of Norman Granz and Ella Fitzgerald above by unknown photographer]

Doggett and Fitzgerald first recorded together in June 1951 on a flip-sided single—Mixed Emotions and Smooth Sailing. They were in the studio again in January 1952 for Air Mail Special and Rough Ridin'.

Ten years later, Doggett was brought in to arrange the Rhythm Is My Business date. As Stuart Nicholson writes and quotes Doggett in Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz:

“In early 1962, Bill Doggett received a call from Norman Granz: 'Ella would like you to arrange and conduct an album for her,' Granz said. 'Do you think you can do it?' I said, 'Just send me the list of tunes and the keys, and I'll do it!' I had the pleasure of choosing the musicians on the session, and I got the best around.

“We did it in two days, and it's one of the better swing albums she did—all good swing tunes. The sessions went just great. I had played my ideas for her before and asked her, 'What about your ideas?' She said, 'You bring the arrangements, and I'll sing them' That's exactly what happened. [Photo of Joe Wilder by Al White]

“We'd play the arrangement down at the session, she'd sing along with it, then say, 'Fine, let's make it!' And that's what it was like all the way though. Any little nuances she did were right there and then, right on the money. She was quick as a wink!"

Rhythm Is My Business remains one of Fitzgerald's most comfortable and natural-sounding albums—harkening back to her early Webb days. It's also one of her strongest barn-burners, showing off her natural ability to take on a rushing wave of aggressive band musicians.

By April 1962 Fitzgerald was back with Riddle followed by sessions with Marty Paich and Quincy Jones. For whatever reason, Rhythm Is My Business was the only album she recorded with Doggett, which in retrospect seems a shame. [Photo above of Ella Fitzgerald at a 1962 studio session, photographer unknown]

JazzWax tracks: Ella Fitzgerald's Rhythm Is My Business (Verve) is available remastered at iTunes and Amazon here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Runnin' Wild from the Rhythm Is My Business session. Dig the arrangement and band as well as the searing instrumental ending!


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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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