A Night With Ella - Seonaid Aitken at The Festival Theatre was a celebration of the centenary year of one of the most iconic singers of the 20th century, and a lady who is inseparable from 20th century Jazz, Blues and popular music - Ella Jane Fitzgerald (25 April 1917 to 15 June 1996) - a singer who for many people was one of the great interpreters of song and simply defined with her versions many of the songs in the “Great American Songbook”.
Celebrating the music on-stage with Seonaid were The Groove Merchant Big Band, The Festival Orchestra string section, Fergus McCreadie on piano, and special guest vocalist Sam West.
Just where do you even start with the musical legacy that Ella Fitzgerald left to the world? Everyone wanted to work with Ella, singers, songwriters, producers and arrangers, and her long list of musical collaborators include the very best of the best - the songbooks of Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin, and George and Ira Gershwin (to name a few), musical arrangers like Nelson Riddle and Quincy Jones, and of course musical legends including Count Basie and Louis Armstrong. Well, our selection of songs performed over two sets had the answer to that question – start at the very beginning in 1938 with the endearing nursery rhyme turned jazz song –“A Tisket a Tasket”, and ending with Ella’s very last studio album from 1992 –“All That Jazz”, and the very last track from that album – “The Nearness of You”.
In between the opening and closing bookends of the incredible career of Ella Fitzgerald, so many timeless classics – “That Old Black Magic”, “Georgia on My Mind”, “It’s Only a Paper Moon”, “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Get Happy”, to name a few...an evening of some of the most classic songs of the 20th century’s Great American Songbook brought to life by the classic and timeless voice of Seonaid Aitken. I’ve watched Seonaid play violin and sing a few times with her great Gypsy Jazz band “Rose Room”, but this was a different performer on stage for this show. Gone was the always impressive violin talents of Seonaid (well apart from one song only), and in place a stylish and classic singer and interpreter of some of the greatest songs ever written, displaying not only an enormous vocal range, but the talent to control it in every emotive note. Add to this impeccable timing and phrasing and it’s easy to see why Seonaid Aitken has just won Best Vocalist at The Scottish Jazz Awards this year. Add to this some impressive duets with Sam West on classics like “Cheek to Cheek” and “Summertime” with Sam’s deep, warm rich vocal tones complementing Seonaid’s vocals perfectly and the duet results were something special . To add a little extra period authenticity to the music, some of these songs were performed tonight with their original band orchestrations.
Ella Fitzgerald was famous as a musical innovator, and as one of the great performers of “Scat”. Very few people can do this style properly – Ella was one of the very few “Scat” singers that I could listen to without the form becoming repetitive. Seonaid Aitken has just been added to that very special list of people who have not only the vocal range, but the vocal control required to do it properly.
“A Night With Ella - Seonaid Aitken” was one of those perfect nights – a celebration of music from one classic and stylish singer performed by another classic and stylish singer. I just hope that Seonaid goes into the recording studio at some point to record forever some of her own timeless interpretations of these classic songs.
A special mention here to the impressive musical talents of a still very young Fergus McCreadie on piano…a young man who has such a huge musical future ahead of him.
This performance was also part of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival 100 – celebrating 100 years of Jazz.
Review by Tom King