Entertaining Ella

American musicians Steve Richko and Annie Sellick pay homage to jazz legends including Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.

April 16, 2010 16:59
3 minute read.
Vocalist Annie Sellick.

annie sellick 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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When legendary jazz diva Ella Fitzgerald was starting out, back in the Thirties, jazz meant entertainment and shaking a leg or two on the dance floor. But then the swing era gave way to the more cerebral beebop genre and, although Fitzgerald continued to justify her title of “the First Lady of Song” for several more decades, the Golden Age of jazz was over.

This Friday, however, at the Opera House in Tel Aviv pianist Steve Richko, bass player Paul Keller, drummer Pete Siers and vocalist Annie Sellick will do their best to bring back the flavor of those bygone days when the likes of Fitzgerald, trumpeter Louis Armstrong and, later, pianist Oscar Peterson kept the public well entertained, before sending them home with beatific smiles on their faces.

“I feel Louis Armstrong brought entertainment to people and there was the joyfulness in Ella’s presentation and a purity about her,” notes Nashville, Tennessee born and raised Sellick, “I really connect with that rather than, say, someone like [iconic jazz singer] Billie Holiday who, for me, expressed more anguish.” Needless to say Sellick is delighted to be coming here to perform with Richko, Keller and Siers, to do a tribute concert to Fitzgerald and Peterson entitled Remembering Oscar and Ella.

“There’s that old school approach to entertaining the audience that comes naturally to me,” Sellick continues. “Ella’s joyfulness was certainly an early influence for me. I feel entirely comfortable with that.”

In fact, it took a while for Sellick to fully take jazz on board, which she feels may be to her advantage. “My parents loved music. My dad played a bit of guitar and my mum used to put on LPs with Motown [soul] music and R&B. Then my stepfather used to have bluegrass jams at home once a week.” Mind you, it wasn’t exactly love at first listen. “ I thought blue grass sounded like a bunch of dumb hicks to begin with,” Sellick confesses, “but it was there all the time. So I had an appreciation for improvised music before I finally got into the jazz.”

Sellick’s jazz epiphany came about when she was at college. “I sat in and sang with a jazz band and the thing just sort of took of from there. I really loved it and I just loved the lyrics, especially Johnny Mercer lyrics. Then there’s that swing rhythm and the chord changes. You can reharmonize a song with new chord changes and it all sounds so great. I wanted to tell stories with the lyrics, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Sellick takes an uncomplicated approach to her craft and says that it’s time to get back to those early days. “I have a sort of nostalgia for the Golden Age. A lot of people today don’t expect to be entertained when they go to a jazz concert. It’s as if they’re looking for something cerebral, and to get deep inside the music. Today people can get educated about jazz at universities and other such places, and some tend to break the music down. In the old days they used to just pick it up in the clubs, as they went along.”

For Sellick, Fitzgerald was the ultimate ice breaker. “Ella just wanted to make people happy, even if they didn’t understand the finer points of jazz. One comment I am always delighted to hear from people who come to my gigs,‘Wow! I didn’t know I liked jazz, I think I’m going to explore jazz some more’. Back in Ella’s day, jazz was not niche music the way it has become, but I think jazz can still entertain, especially vocal jazz which is so accessible. We can all relate to words, to lyrics. They really reach people.”

On Friday Sellick and the band – the instrumentalists will do the first set, with Sellick joining them for the second half of the Opera House concert – will do some standards associated with Fitzgerald, like “That Old Black Magic” and “Lady Be Good” and, says the singer, “there will also be some surprises.” More than anything Sellick says she wants to stay to true to the Fitzgerald entertainment. “I’d like to think that she’s going to be looking down at us on stage in Tel Aviv and smiling. I think she would like what we’re going to be doing.”

The Remembering Oscar and Ella concert takes place at the Opera House in Tel Aviv tonight at 10 p.m. For tickets and more information call: 03-6927777 or got to: www.israeli-opera.co.il.

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