Patti Austin & Friends Swing, Shine & Scat in “100: The Apollo Celebrates Ella’s 100th Birthday”

If there is any singer optimally suited to saluting the extraordinary Ella Fitzgerald, it is Patti Austin. Unlike other artists jumping on Ella’s ‘A’ Train to celebrate her centennial, Austin has been singing and scatting her praises and phrases for decades – from her GRAMMY®–nominated CD For Ella in 2002 and its follow-up Ella Now & Then to several live performances dedicated to her music. Patti Austin brings the house down with her vibrant and brassy turns on Ella’s swing and melts your heart with Ella’s balladry because she has lived and learned those songs since she was a child prodigy. An all-star cast will sing along with Patti, including comedic multi-talent David Alan Grier, soul-jazz singer Ledisi, cabaret star Monica Mancini (daughter of legendary composer/conductor Henry Mancini) and piano man Shelly Berg. Produced in collaboration with GRAMMY®–winning producer Gregg Field, who at the age of 24 toured as Ella's drummer, this very special program was first presented at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York and arrives under the stars at the Ford on Sunday, September 24.

Patti Austin
Patti Austin performing 100 at The Apollo. Photo by Shahar Azran.

Not just an evening of Ella’s music re-sung the way she immortalized it, 100 whisks audiences back to the glorious '40s-'50s era of the Apollo Theater where only the finest in African American song, dance and comedy was presented. Ella – born April 15, 1917 and definitively crowned “The First Lady of Song”  was a crowd favorite with her darling, radiant personality coupled with a vocal abandon that allowed her to musically mix it up with the boys in the band like nobody’s business. Patti Austin – beloved for her five-alarm vocal pipes chased with an earthy, irreverent sense of humor  makes audiences feel as if they’ve spent an uproarious evening with a favorite girlfriend.  

In her approach to Ella’s classic canon which includes “How High The Moon,” “Too Close For Comfort,” “April In Paris,” “The Man I Love,” and, of course, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” Patti pays homage by picking up the torch and doing it her way. In an interview for “60 Minutes” she stated, “There will never be another her. I equate it to going into Ella’s closet, taking out some choice things then tailoring them to best fit me.”  

Native New Yorker Austin was four when she took the stage for the very first time. Her Godfather is the incomparable Quincy Jones, her Godmother was the no-nonsense Dinah Washington, and her father was a dedicated trombonist. Patti got her vocal gifts naturally followed by a lot of chops-building work.

Patti Austin is in the midst of celebrating her sixth decade in music, with material of a more standard, classic repertoire. This includes winning a 2008 GRAMMY® Award for her Top 10 Jazz album Avant-Gershwin, as well as a decade and a half of performing the music of Ella Fitzgerald worldwide. Patti’s first concert of Ella’s music in 2001 was a rousing success and she has not looked back since. “Back in the day when you were singing jazz,” Austin told me, “the whole purpose of a singer was to sound as much like an instrument as they could. Today, yes there are people that love Ella, listen to her records and try to cop her ‘thing.’ But Ella got her ‘thing’ directly from (be-bop trumpet legend) Dizzy Gillespie. He would blow some lines to her and she would sing `em right back!” Indeed, scat singing is where Ella left all other singers in the dust.

Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald at The Apollo.

Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular jazz singer in the world for more than half a century. She worked with the greatest of jazz royalty – from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong to Nat “King” Cole, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra. Her immortal career was dotted with 13 GRAMMY® Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of the Arts and over 40 million albums sold. In 1991, she gave her final concert at Carnegie Hall, a place she graced on 26 magical occasions. 

For 100: The Apollo Celebrates Ella’s 100th Birthday, Patti and friends promise an unforgettable evening. “We are taking the best of an Ella Fitzgerald show and turning it into a history-sharing, story-telling experience…with a mesmerizing array of songs.” 

- By A. Scott Galloway

100: The Apollo Celebrates Ella’s 100th Birthday takes place on Sunday, September 24 at 8:00 PM. Get your tickets here before they’re gone!