Zardi’s Jazzland kicked off 1956 with a double-bill – an Andre Previn combo plus Shorty Rogers and His Giants. Previn was recording for Decca Records at the time and his recent LP, let’s get away from it all!, Decca DL 3181, featured Al Hendrickson, Irv Cottler, and Red Mitchell. Shorty was recording for Atlantic Records and his recent sessions in December for, Martians Come Back, Atlantic 1232, featured an expanded group of Giants. Shorty’s group that played Zardi’s probably included his working nightclub quintet with Jimmy Giuffre, Pete Jolly, Ralph Peña, and Gary Frommer. A short column in the Citizen News on January 12th mentioned that Shorty was working Zardi’s Jazzland with a trio?
Ella Fitzgerald opened at Zardi’s Jazzland on Tuesday, January 17th, on a double-bill with Buddy DeFranco. A column in the California Eagle stated that DeFranco was bringing a quintet to the club, but ads noted it was a quartet. Buddy DeFranco recorded for Norman Granz and had completed an album with his quintet the previous year, Sweet and Lovely, Verve MG V 8224. Quintet members: Buddy DeFranco, clarinet; Sonny Clark, piano; Tal Farlow, guitar; Eugene Wright, bass, and Bobby White, drums.
’La Fitzgerald And DeFranco At Zardi’s Now
Hollywood’s answer to “Fabulous Las Vegas” the popular Zardi’s, on Hollywood near Vine. the most magnificent nightclub of the West, opened its big-name policy this week with the first of its $150.000 worth of top talent within the next six months: Ella Fitzgerald.
An Entertainment Must!
Ella, considered top female vocalist of all time, is making her very last Coast appearance and is offering many of her great Decca hit selections. She may he seen for only 14 more days at the famous Jazzland.
Alternating with Miss Fitzgerald is the popular recording artist, Buddy DeFranco and his Quintet, one of the most versatile combinations in the popular music field.
Invite your friends to join you regularly at Zardi’s.
When Donato and Arkin remodeled the club they enlarged the bandstand to accommodate large orchestras and bands. The former bandstand at the old Zardi’s was crowded when quintets occupied the space that included a decent sized piano. The South Seas woven raffia and bamboo was gone and a new backdrop mural featured blue skies and clouds with a musical motif that was similar to the musical murals that used to adorn the Tiffany Club and Jazz City.
The Stan Kenton orchestra opened at the club on Friday, February 3, 1956. Los Angeles jazz fans who could not attend the opening of the Kenton orchestra were able to experience the band on their TV sets. KCOP, channel 13, premiered Tonight At Zardi’s during the Kenton engagement at the club. Newspapers reported that the Kenton orchestra drew SRO crowds to the club and long lines of fans lining the sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard. The Kenton orchestra recorded a new album during their time at the club, Kenton In Hi-Fi, for Capitol Records. The orchestra members on that album were most likely on the bandstand at Zardi’s Jazzland: Ed Leddy, Maynard Ferguson, Sam Noto, Pete Candoli, Don Paladino, trumpets; Carl Fontana, Bob Fitzpatrick, Milt Bernhart, Kent Larsen, trombones; Don Kelly, bass-trombone; Lennie Niehaus, Skeets Herfurt, alto saxophones; Vido Musso, Bill Perkins, Spencer Sinatra, tenor saxophones; Jack Nimitz, baritone saxophone; Stan Kenton, piano, leader, arranger; Ralph Blaz, guitar; Don Bagley, bass; Mel Lewis, drums.
A double-bill returned to Zardi’s Jazzland on Friday, February 24th, when the George Shearing Quintet and the Sonny Criss Quartet opened at the club for a two-week run. The Shearing quintet that had been recording for Capitol Records included George Shearing, piano; Toots Thielemans, guitar, harmonica; Al McKibbon, bass; Percy Brice, drums; and Armando Peraza, conga. Shearing’s recent LP on Capitol T-737, Latin Escapade, included Johnny Rae on vibes as well as Tony Martinez and Chico Guerrero handling Latin percussion. An ad for KCOP noted that the Shearing quintet would be featured on Tonight At Zardi’s to be broadcast at 9:00 P.M. Sonny Criss was recording for Imperial Records and his musicians on Imperial LP 9006, Jazz U.S.A., were still finishing up sessions for that album that would be released later in the summer: Sonny Criss, alto saxophone; Kenny Drew, piano; Barney Kessel, guitar; Bill Woodson or Buddy Woodson, bass; and Chuck Thompson, drums.
Jazz vocalists were booked regularly at Zardi’s Jazzland and 1956 featured all of the top names in the business. Chris Connor arrived during the first week of March along with the Joe Loco Sextet. Loco’s real name was Joseph Esteves and his Latin piano fireworks were part of the mid 1950s mambo craze. His Columbia LP from 1955, Loco Motion, was marketed to the mambo and Latin dance craze audience. Chris Connor’s career was launched by Bethlehem Records. When she appeared at Zardi’s Jazzland, Chris had switched labels and was now with Atlantic Records. She had recently completed a third recording session for her debut on Atlantic 1228, Chris Connor. The twelve selections on the LP were split evenly between a quartet led by John Lewis, a tentet with Nick Travis, and a 19-piece orchestra arranged and conducted by Ralph Burns.
Zardi’s Jazzland remained in jazz vocalist groove when Sarah Vaughan opened on Friday, March 22nd. She was accompanied by Jimmy Jones, piano; Joe Benjamin, bass, and Roy Haynes on drums. The California Eagle reported that her engagement was breaking attendance records, and that Sarah was performing some of the standards that established her career like “Perdido” and “Tenderly” plus tunes from her new Mercury release, Wonderful Sarah. The Pete Jolly Trio was added to the bill at the end of March, Pete Jolly, piano; Bob Bertaux, bass, and Frank DiVito, drums.
Sarah Vaughan was featured in a live NBC broadcast from the club during this engagement, hosted by Los Angeles disc-jockey and personality, Joe Adams. The Treasury Department in conjunction with the American Federation of Musicians sponsored the All Star Parade. The entire thirty-minute set provides a rare opportunity to hear a live performance from Zardi’s Jazzland.
The Earl Bostic band opened on Monday, April 9th. The California Eagle reported that this engagement was with Bostic’s recording band. If that was the case the members included: Elmon Wright, Johnny Coles, trumpets; Phil Olivella, clarinet; Earl Bostic, Hymie Schertzer, alto saxophones; Benny Golson, tenor saxophone; Stash O’Laughlin, piano; George Barnes, guitar; George Tucker, bass; Wilbert Granville T. Hogan, drums; and Kenneth Tyle, percussion. The Pete Jolly Trio remained at the club as a double-bill during Bostic’s stay.
The Earl Bostic band closed on Thursday, April 19th, to make way for Count Basie and His Band that opened the following day featuring Joe Williams. Count Basie was still recording for Norman Granz and the orchestra members had been stable for years and included: Wendell Culley, Reunald Jones, Joe Newman, trumpets; Thad Jone, trumpet, arranger; Henry Coker, Bill Hughes, Benny Powell, trombones; Marshall Royal, clarinet, alto saxophone; Bill Graham, alto saxophone; Frank Wess, flute, tenor saxophone; Frank Foster, tenor saxophone, arranger; Charlie Fowlkes, baritone saxophone, bass-clarinet; Count Basie, piano, leader; Freddie Green, guitar, arranger; Eddie Jones, bass; Sonny Payne, drums; and Joe Williams, vocals. The Mirror News reported that Count Basie was breaking previous attendance records at the club, and that it was common to see patrons waiting on the sidewalk for a chance to enter the club and experience the Basie sound.
Sam Donato and Ben Arkin booked Les Brown and His Band of Renown to follow the Count Basie engagement. The ten-day stand began on May 3rd and closed on Sunday, May 13th. The mid 1950s Les Brown band was a poll winner and had established a jazz reputation beyond its familiar popularity as a strictly “dance” band. Wes Hensel, trumpet, arranger; Don Paladino, Stan Stout, Don Fagerquist, trumpets; Ray Sims, trombone, vocal; Vern Friley, Bobby Pring, trombones; Stumpy Brow, bass-trombone, vocal; Les Brow, clarinet, alto saxophone, arranger; Sol Libero, clarinet, alto saxophone; Ronny Lang, alto saxophone, flute; Dave Pell, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Abe Aaron, tenor-soprano-baritone saxophones, clarinet; Butch Stone, baritone saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Donn Trenner, piano; Vernon Polk, guitar; Buddy Clark, bass; Bill Richmond, drums; Jo Ann Greer, vocal; and Frank Comstock, arranger. One of Les Brown’s latest albums was appropriately titled, Les Brown’s in Town, Capitol T746.
The month of May was filled out with the return of two smaller combos. The Cal Tjader Quintet opened on Wednesday, May 16, and was joined on Friday, May 18, by the Bob Scobey Band featuring Clancy Hayes and Lizzie Miles. The pairing of a traditional jazz combo with a hot Latin flavored modern jazz group was unusual, but newspapers reported that it was successful and the club continued to have good crowds for the double-bill. Scobey had recently recorded an album for Verve, The San Francisco Jazz of Bob Scobey. Bob Scobey, trumpet; Jack Buck, trombone; Bill Napier, clarinet; Jesse Crump, piano; Clancy Hayes, banjo, guitar, vocal; Hal McCormick, bass; and Fred Higuera, drums. Cal Tjader was one of Fantasy Records brightest jazz stars with albums of straight ahead jazz as well as Latin influenced albums. His Latin quintet included: Cal Tjader, vibes; Manny Duran, piano; Carlos Duran, bass; Luis Miranda, conga; and Benny Velarde, timbales. His latest album with this combo, Cal Tjader Quintet, Fantasy 3232, featured an award winning cover graphic of a musician cradling a set of bongo drums between his knees.
The California Eagle devoted a column to announce the next all star group to appear at Zardi’s Jazzland. Louis Jordan—band leader, singer, instrumentalist, arranger, songwriter; radio, movie and recording star, brought his famous orchestra into Zardi’s Jazzland, Hollywood and Vine last Friday, June 1, 1956. A popular entertainer with a dynamic personality, Jordan shouts the blues with the best of them or delivers a gossamer ballad straight from the heart. Jordan dictates his own wonderfully imaginative arrangements and plays among his fans’ many favorites, his own compositions, “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and “Let the Good Times Roll.”
The number of musicians seen in photos of Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five always seem to number in excess of five. The line-up from a mid 1950s recording session included: Bob Mitchell, trumpet, Louis Jordan, alto saxophone, vocal; Jerome Richardso, alto saxophone; Lowell “Count” Hastings, Maurice Simon, tenor saxophones; Dave McRae, baritone saxophone; Chester Lane, piano; Bert Payne, electric-guitar; Thurber “Sam-Guy” Jay, electric-bass; Johnny Kirkwoo, drums; Machito, Chino Pozo, Rafael Miranda, percussion. The Zardi’s Jazzland ads noted that Dottie Smith and HI-FI’s vocal group were featured with the Louis Jordan Tympani Five.
A popular local combo followed Louis Jordan into the club, the Westlake College Quintet. The collegiate jazz champions secured a contract to record an album for Decca Records, College Goes to Jazz. The cover photo of the LP was taken at the entrance to Westlake College where all of the students studied. Album personnel: Luther MacDonald, valve-trombone; Sam Firmature, tenor saxophone; Dick Grove, piano; Dick Fritz, bass; and Fred Taggaert, drums. John Graas was one of the judges at the collegiate competition at the Lighthouse that selected the quintet members. He provided arrangements for the album as well as contributing some original compositions. The newspaper ad for the group’s engagement featured a quotation from Dave Brubeck – “Scared me to death! Great, great combo!”
The Westlake College Quintet closed on Thursday, June 21st, to make way for the Erroll Garner Trio and the Stan Getz Quartet, a blockbuster double-bill that opened the next day. Getz had recorded with Lou Levy, piano; Leroy Vinnegar, bass; and Shelly Manne, drums; on an album for Verve, West Coast Jazz, that included Conte Candoli on trumpet. Erroll Garner’s trio featured some new faces: Eddie Calhoun on bass and Denzil Best on drums. One of Garner’s recent albums for Columbia was CL1452, The One and Only Erroll Garner. The double-bill coincided with the launch of a new television series in Los Angeles, Stars of Jazz, on KABC, Channel 7. The series producer, Jimmy Bake, contacted Sam Donato who agreed to cover scale wages for the Stan Getz appearance on the debut program on June 25, 1956. In return Zardi’s Jazzland received on air promotion of the club, a bargain. Getz’s rhythm section who appeared on the show and at the club were Lou Levy, piano; Max Bennett, bass; and Gary Frommer, drums. Jimmy Baker proposed a repeat for the second Stars of Jazz program on July 2, 1956, and Donato once again picked up the scale wages for Garner, Calhoun, and Best.
The Garner-Getz double-bill ran for a month and was replaced by another sensational double-bill on July 20th – the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Buddy De Franco Quintet. Dave Brubeck was no stranger to Los Angeles or to Zardi’s when it was the smaller club with the South Seas décor. De Franco similarly had frequented the West Coast and Zardi’s. Dave Brubeck had recently appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival and his current label, Columbia Records, had recorded the quartet’s appearance that would be featured on a future LP release. Norman Granz recorded the quintet at Zardi’s Jazzland, recordings that remain unissued to this day. Jimmy Baker selected Monday night as the broadcast time for Stars of Jazz as most Los Angeles jazz clubs observed Monday night as the off-night when featured jazz artists were available to appear on the program. Sam Donato signed the AFM contract to pick up scale wages for Brubeck, Desmond, Bates, and Dodge when they appeared on the fifth Stars of Jazz program on July 23, 1956.
Zardi’s Jazzland offered jazz patrons another taste of Latin entertainment in August with the booking of Perez Prado – His Orchestra & Show. Prado tipped a toe into the jazz waters in 1953 on an album for RCA Victor where he collaborated with Shorty Rogers on the title selection, “Voodoo Suite” that occupied one side of the LP with six standards making up side two. Voodoo Suite Plus Six All-Tine Greats featured two dozen of the top brass and reedmen in Hollywood plus ten percussionists. Prado came to Los Angeles from Las Vegas where his orchestra enjoyed an extended engagement at the Sahara Hotel. Perez Prado routinely made the hit charts and his “Hawaiian War Chant” was currently climbing the charts. Another favorite that fans clamoured for was “Cherry Pink” and the crowds at Zardi’s Jazzland were treated to both. Prado opened om August 3rd and exited the club on the 20th to make way for Dinah Washington.
Audrey Kearns, entertainment writer for the Citizen News featured Washington’s opening in her column on August 23rd. Last night glamor came to Hollywood Boulevard in the form — and WHAT a form ! — of Dinah Washington, who opened a limited singing engagement at Zardi’s Jazzland. Dinah’s many loyal fans were out in droves to hear their favorite and the new slim, trim Dinah Washington took them by surprise. Wearing a wardrobe designed to bring gasps from men and women alike, Dinah stands upon the stage at Zardi’s and gives generously from her large répertoire of songs.
Such early Washingtonia as “Long John Blues,” “TV’s the Thing” and her latest Mercury recording “Soft Winds” made the crowd even more enthusiastic than I’d expected, though I’ve always liked Dinah and known she had many other fans, too. Incidentally, with the singer is her own swinging trio plus comic Slappy White and the award-winning Buddy De Franco and his Quintet.
The Stan Kenton orchestra returned to Zardi’s Jazzland on Saturday, September 9, 1956. The band closed on Sunday, the 16th to make way for a one-week engagement of Billy Ward and His Dominoes. The Mirror News reported that the Decca and Federal Records artists had won national acclaim, winning five gold records as well as Down Beat and The Billboard awards. Here is a partial entry from Wikipedia covering this period for the group: In 1954, Ward moved the group to Jubilee Records and then to Decca Records, with which they had a number 27 pop hit, “St. Therese of the Roses” featuring Jackie Wilson on tenor, giving the Dominoes a brief moment in the spotlight again. However, the group was unable to follow that success on the charts, and there were a succession of personnel changes. They increasingly moved away from their R&B roots with appearances in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Elvis Presley went to hear Jackie Wilson and the Dominoes in Las Vegas in 1956 and was so impressed with Wilson’s singing that he went back to Sun Studios and cut the Million Dollar Quartet’s version of “Don’t Be Cruel.” Presley introduced the song by saying how Wilson sang it much better and then proceeded to do an impersonation of the much slower Dominoes version, backed by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Al Hibbler opened at Zardi’s Jazzland on October 3, 1956. The double-bill included the Jimmy Giuffre Trio. Giuffre’s trio included Jim Hall on guitar and Ralph Peña on bass while Giuffre alternated between clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophone. A column in the California Eagle proclaimed – “Versatile Al Hibbler Finest Artist On Strip” in an October 4, 1956, column. “Mr. He” – Al Hibbler, whose talent and determination offset his double handicaps of blindness and poverty to make him one of the vocal greats of our time, currently appearing at Zardi’s Jazzland, Hollywood and Vine, has been held up as an inspiration to the handicapped by the Veteran’s Administration. In a letter to every major national radio and television program in the nation, the Veteran’s Administration announced the week of October 7 as the “Hire the Physically Handicapped Week,” and suggested that a physical handicap need not stand in the way of success. The Decca recording artist whose “Unchained” and “He” hits promise to be duplicated by his current release, “After the Lights Go Down Low” is scheduled to appear on Art Linkletter’s Houseparty and the Larry Finley Show. The inimitable Hibbler is appearing nightly in continuous shows along with the Jimmy Giuffre Trio at Zardi’s Jazzland. He will be followed on Wednesday, October 17th by the Divine Sarah Vaughan.
The California Eagle covered the opening of Vaughan in their October 18th edition: Slappy White Giuffre Trio Part of Show. Sarah Vaughan, still the “Divine One” and the biggest star with Mercury Records is currently displaying her inimitable song stylings at Zardi’s Jazzland in Hollywood. Sarah, one of the nation’s top recording artists, will ride into Los Angeles on the crest of another potential hit, her latest waxing of “It Happened Again,” while her Mercury release of “The Fabulous Character” is still being played all over the nation by deejays.
“The Divine One,” long the favorite songstress of jazz lovers because of her spectacular “bent notes” has zoomed in the past two years to the top ranks of popular singers throughout the world, following her unprecedented number of consecutive hit records. She will offer many of her all-time greats such as “Tenderly,” “Whatever Lola Wants” and many selections from her albums and most requested single releases. Slappy White, fast becoming the nations favorite comedian, along with the Jimmy Guiffre Trio fill the Zardi’s Jazzland entertainment bill. Sarah Vaughan was featured at a concert in the Shrine Auditorium on November 9, 1956, presented by Irving Granz,the brother of Norman Granz. The trio that accompanied her at the concert probably were the same accompanying her at Zardi’s Jazzland: Jimmy Jones on piano, George Bledsoe on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums.
The Oscar Peterson Trio and the Stan Getz Quartet followed Vaughan at Zardi’s Jazzland on November 5, 1956. The Peterson trio also appeared at the Irving Granz “Jazz a la Carte” concert on November 9, 1956. Peterson’s trio included Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar. None of the newspaper coverage noted the rhythm section behind Getz but chances are it was the same trio of Lou Levy, Max Bennett, and Gary Frommer. The George Shearing opens at the club on November 27th, and after the departure of Stan Getz, the Lou Levy Trio remained at the club as the featured group on a double-bill with the Shearing Quintet.
Ella Fitzgerald returned to Zardi’s Jazzland on December 18, 1956, where she remained for the balance of 1956. When Fitzgerald appeared at the club at the first of the year she was accompanied by Don Abney, piano; Vernon Alley, bass; and Frank Capp, drums. Norman Granz recorded Ella on her last night at the club, February 2, 1956, before the Stan Kenton orchestra opened on the 3rd. The recording sat in the vaults for over sixty years before it was released as a CD in December of 2017. The following review by Nate Chinen was published by WBGO on November 9, 2017.
After Six Decades in the Vault, ‘Ella at Zardi’s’ Brings New Shine to Ella Fitzgerald’s Centennial
Ella Fitzgerald was a big star on the cusp of something bigger when she began an engagement at Zardi’s Jazzland, in the heart of Hollywood, during the first several weeks of 1956. A jazz singer of unerring instinct and peerless ebullience, she had just left Decca to become the first artist on Verve Records, founded expressly for that purpose by her manager, Norman Granz. Tape was rolling during one night of the run, and it captured Fitzgerald in relaxed, magnificent form at a pivotal moment in her career. But the recording has never circulated, sitting in the label vault for more than 60 years. It will finally see daylight, bringing a finishing flourish to Fitzgerald’s centennial celebration, with the release of Ella at Zardi’s on Dec. 1.
The album features two consecutive sets, each a vivid illustration of Fitzgerald’s live spark as an improviser, her airtight control of rhythm and pitch, and her bantering bond with an audience. She was sharing a bill at the club with the bebop clarinetist Buddy De Franco, and the mood in the room was both attentive and boisterous. Granz introduces Fitzgerald before her first set, making an earnest pronouncement: “For me, she’s the greatest there is.” You can hear his intro in this exclusive premiere of “It All Depends on You,” a pop standard never released on any album by Fitzgerald. The recording was made on Feb. 2, 1956, two and half weeks into Fitzgerald’s engagement at the club. Days later, on Feb. 7, she entered the Capitol Records Studio to begin recording her Verve debut, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book. That would kick off her landmark run of songbook albums, a breakthrough both for Fitzgerald as a recording artist and for the Great American Songbook itself.
Fitzgerald’s debut album had been a songbook effort as well: Ella Sings Gershwin, made with the pianist Ellis Larkins, and released on Decca in 1950 on 10-inch LP. But Decca resisted Granz’s subsequent entreaties to make a follow-up of Cole Porter songs: “They rejected it on the grounds that Ella wasn’t that kind of singer,” he later recalled. By early 1956, Granz had pried Fitzgerald away from Decca, using a shrewd bit of leverage. As Tad Hershorn chronicles in Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice, Decca had been about to release the soundtrack to The Benny Goodman Story, a major biopic starring Steve Allen as Goodman, when someone realized that several of the most prominent musicians on the album were under exclusive contract to Granz. When Decca came seeking permissions, he agreed on the sole condition that Fitzgerald be released from her contract. Then he announced the formation of Verve Records, a new label designed to accommodate popular music as well as jazz. The bright young arranger-conductor Buddy Bregman was enlisted to write orchestrations for the Cole Porter album, and Fitzgerald began rehearsing Porter’s songs during off hours at the club where she was working.
This was Zardi’s Jazzland, at Hollywood and Vine, around the corner from Capitol Studios. “Zardi’s was one of the better L.A. jazz rooms of the time,” notes Kirk Silsbee in the liner notes to Ella at Zardi’s. Fitzgerald had played a few of Hollywood’s posher rooms — like the Mocambo, which she headlined thanks in part to the lobbying of a celebrity admirer, Marilyn Monroe. A later engagement at the Crescendo, in the early ‘60s, would generate the material for a 4-CD boxed set called Twelve Nights in Hollywood, released on Verve in 2009. The atmosphere at Zardi’s Jazzland was upscale but suited to a real jazz constituency: its booking ran toward the major names of the day, like Erroll Garner and Stan Getz.
Fitzgerald’s trio for the engagement included a supportive, unflashy rhythm team of bassist Vernon Alley and drummer Frank Capp. The pianist was Don Abney, a session ace with a George Shearing-esque approach to voicing chords. Abney had backed Fitzgerald onscreen the previous year in Pete Kelly’s Blues, a noir musical film starring (and directed by) Jack Webb.
Throughout Ella at Zardi’s, you hear Fitzgerald gamely taking requests and trading quips with the crowd. Intriguingly, given the impending recording session, she sings just one Cole Porter tune, at the request of songwriter Gordon Jenkins, who was in the audience. And the request, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” is among the Porter songs that doesn’t appear on her studio album. Instead, the set list ranges through popular hits of the day — like “The Tender Trap,” which she’d recorded for Decca — and staples from her playbook. Among the highlights are “A Fine Romance,” jaunty and insouciant, and “Gone With the Wind,” at a honeydrip tempo that one audience member identifies as “sexy.” Fitzgerald also does killer impressions of both Rose Murphy and Louis Armstrong on her version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and dedicates “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” to its cowriter, Van Alexander, who’s seated near the stage. What’s evident throughout the album, besides Fitzgerald’s sheer mastery, is her in-the-moment presence. She’s responsive to the crowd, feeding off their energy. Hershorn, a longtime archivist at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers in Newark, recently had a chance to hear Ella at Zardi’s. Asked to reflect on it, he said: “Her relationship to the audience, and the audience to her, just creates the perfect situation where you have fire, dry tinder and a breeze.” That may be never clearer than on “Airmail Special,” the penultimate track on the album, and a reliable scat showcase for Fitzgerald. At one point, in the middle of a spontaneous jag, she ad libs: “Every time you catch us and you catch a show you find we do it just a little different.” That’s demonstrably true, and Ella at Zardi’s is a shining example: it has the silvery, elusive magic of something never to be repeated, though we’re fortunate enough that it was documented.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.
The Ray Avery and Howard Lucraft photos that greatly enhance this presentation have been licensed from CTSIMAGES. Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to: Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.