As musicians and music fans alike honor Ella Fitzgerald on the centenary of her birth, internationally acclaimed jazz violinist Regina Carter is paying tribute to the “First Lady of Song” on her new album Ella: Accentuate The Positive.
“The first time I put on on an Ella record, I just got this feeling of warmth and love,” she told Morning Shift host Jenn White. “I could escape. I put her on and I could just go to another place.”
Carter said choosing lesser known songs gave her the “freedom to give a different treatment to these tunes,” drawing inspiration from soul artists like Mavis Staples and Fitzgerald’s own wide-ranging discography.
Ahead of her concert at Symphony Center Friday, Morning Shift spoke to Carter about the project and the parallels between her own work and that of Ella Fitzgerald. Below are some interview highlights.
‘She gave us everything’
Regina Carter: One of the many things I love about Ella is that she didn’t box herself in. She just loved music and she loved making music. Whether she was doing jazz or country western or doo-wop music, whatever, she just loved singing. We have everything, she gave us everything.
(Growing up), there was always an instrument, either the violin or that the violin was related to. My ear was drawn to that and I was always very curious about these different styles or genres of music. So I never wanted to box myself in; I wanted to experience different music and the cultures that went along with them.
‘She was an equal to the instruments’
Carter: Not only could she sing a melody and just grab you in the heart, she could scat, she could improvise, the same as these horn players could in the band.
I feel like the violin is probably the closest instrument to the human voice. When I’m learning a song, if the song has lyrics, then I learn those lyrics. That’s important to stay true to the melody. Then I try to sing those through my instrument. I’m playing the words, so I’m hoping people can hear those words.
‘She had to really fight’
Carter: It was a man’s world. She had to fight for herself to be seen, to be heard. And it was a very racist world for her. To have to deal with all of that pain but be able to give us so much beauty, I remember that and I’m very thankful for her and others like her that helped pave the way, so that I could be here and play this music and not have to necessarily deal, on the level that she had to deal, with the issues that she was facing.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Press ‘play’ to hear the entire conversation.