By Jenny Peters
2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the births of both Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917) and Dizzy Gillespie (October 21, 1917), two legends in the world of jazz. So what better way to celebrate than with a thrilling night at the Hollywood Bowl?
“Ella and Dizzy: 100 Years, 1,000 Memories” was the moniker given to the show, which took place on July 19, 2017, on yet another perfect summer evening at the Bowl. With Conductor Vince Mendoza leading the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and actress CCH Pounder serving as the night’s host, concertgoers were treated to a show that began with a swingin’ set of Dizzy’s work and, after intermission, a collection of Ella’s greatest tunes, performed by a group of extremely talented singers – and one violinist!
Trumpeter Jon Faddis led the first half, conducting the Dizzy 100th Celebration All-Star Big Band featuring Charles McPherson on saxophone and Billy Childs on piano in a tribute that included Gillespie’s best compositions. “Groovin’ High” and “Manteca” – with a smashing drum solo by Lewis Nash – were two highlights, along with “Things to Come,” “A Night in Tunisia” and “Algo Bueno.”
For the Ella portion of the program, Mendoza and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (which included Patrice Rushen on piano, Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums) kept up a gorgeous syncopation all night long, as different singers interpreted the songs that Fitzgerald made her own. Jane Monheit kicked things off with “Cheek to Cheek,” followed by Lizz Wright’s heartfelt version of “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Then it was time for that incredible violinist, as Regina Carter took the stage and made her instrument sing in a wonderful rendition of the George and Ira Gershwin tune “Oh Lady Be Good.” And the great musical tribute kept on coming, as “Hamilton” Tony Award winner Leslie Odom Jr. wowed the happy audience with his fantastic renditions of “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Night and Day” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
It was Andra Day who really brought down the house, however, with a hilarious rendition of Ella Fitzgerald’s wacked out – yet Grammy Award-winning – version of “Mack the Knife,” right down to the lyrics that Ella hilariously garbled, yet made her own.
With so many talented singers and musicians, the Hollywood Bowl’s celebration of “Ella and Dizzy: 100 Years, 1,000 Memories” was definitely a night to remember. Here’s hoping they decide to revisit more of Ella and Dizzy’s songbooks, long before another 100 years goes by.
Follow Jenny Peters on Twitter @jennpeters and on Instagram @jetsetjen1