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  • Great Movie Idea: The Story of Ella Fitzgerald

    Posted on April 27th, 2011 "Tiki Chris" Pinto 8 comments
    Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald

    Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald

    I wish I lived in Hollywood. Hollywood CA, not FL…where I work…because there’s no one in the movie biz that does anything in Hollywood, FL. I’ve had a theater company, wrote a dozen plays, and have had a few really good ideas for flicks…but not a damned connection anywhere.

    So here’s my beef: Hollywood has been churning out some really good flicks lately, but most of them are either re-hashes of old ideas (Avatar) or out-right remakes (Gone in 60 Seconds), plus a couple sequels made 20 years too late (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull Thingy, Tron II). All good movies, but not really very original. Well, maybe the Crystal Skull movie. Maybe that one was a little too original.

    Anyway, it seems that new ideas are at an all time low, except for those wonderful film makers who are lucky enough to get their indy films produced…and we all know 99% of the time, they (unfortunately) go no where. If only I had the ear of a big-shot movie producer (with some brains) for just a few minutes…

    Ella Fitzgerald: Girl Singer

    This wouldn’t be a documentary. This would be the story of how Ella first got hired by Chick Webb, back when she was just a kid. Web’s band was starting to lose popularity (his was the in-house orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom in NYC), and he sent out word for a “pretty girl singer” to front the band. This was a fairly desperate plea, considering the kat was extremely ill, knew he didn’t have long to live, and didn’t want to buy the farm as a failed bandleader.

    Ella, Girl Singer

    Ella, Girl Singer

    His manager, I think, found Ella singing in a talent show. Supposedly she had never sung in public before, and floored this guy. He brought her right over to Web, who proceeded to throw a fit (Ella was not the prettiest kid on the block…in fact, her looks were kind of…well, he didn’t dig her). But the other guy talked him into letting Ella audition, and Webb realized they had struck gold. And they did…in fact, Ella became the star that Webb never could on his own, and he died (at the young age of 30), from what I’ve read, pretty happy with his girl singer. Hell, the guy even adopted the 17 year old girl singer! Ella actually took over Web’s band, and had it for years before the turn of times forced her to go solo.

    Benny Goodman, King of Swing

    Benny Goodman, King of Swing

    Along side this story you have the story of Benny Goodman, Chick Web’s nemesis. Goodman, being a well-to-do white guy, found it (relatively) easy to gain exposure and popularity compared to Webb…and get this…using the same charts by Fletcher Henderson that Webb used. Exactly the same. You could do that back then. Goodman favorites like Stompin’ at the Savoy, Don’t Be That Way and Blue Lou were first done by Webb’s orchestra, same arrangements, but with a somewhat different swing. That’s Jazz, baby. Anyway, Goodman’s band was the first that Billie Holiday recorded with (in 1933), produced by probably the major name of the big band era (that no one has ever heard of), John Hammond. You’ve got to remember what a big deal it was for a “white” band to play “black” music in 1933, let alone have a black woman record with them. Those records were banned in a lot of places in the South. And Goodman’s band refused to play anywhere that wouldn’t welcome his black sidemen, such as Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and of course Holiday. Kats like Goodman did more to advance civil rights in the 30s than most people can imagine. Oh, and Peggy Lee was also singing with Goodman in the ’30s…a lot of people don’t know that, huh?

    Chick Webb, King of the Savoy

    Chick Webb, King of the Savoy

    You see this movie taking shape? Paths cross…Ella, Goodman, Webb, Holiday, Hammond, Wilson, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw…and sidemen like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, Gene Krupa and Roy Elridge, Charlie Parker and Ray Anthony who went on to define the styles of Jazz, laying the groundwork for swingin’ kats like Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. Man, I’d pay for popcorn and a ticket to watch that flick! Wouldn’t you?

    Lady Day

    Lady Day

    So if there are any big-shot movie producers out there who read Tiki Lounge Talk, please let me know if you dig the idea. We’ll draw up the standard ‘rich and famous’ contract.

    -Tiki Chris P., reporting from the writer’s lounge

    PS: I riff on the licorice stick, so I’ll be happy to play Benny Goodman. Call my agent. We’ll do lunch. And stuff.

     

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