Smithsonian Jazz group honors Ella Fitzgerald

By From page B4 | February 21, 2014

Smithsonian JazzThe Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra honors the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, at the Harris Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m.

Pulling original, little played arrangements done for Fitzgerald in the ‘40s and ‘50s — charts penned by superstar arrangers such as Billy May, Count Basie, Billy Strayhorn and Benny Carter — Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the ever-elegant Kim Nazarian will join together in an evening at of fascinating rarities.

Fitzgerald (1917-1996) was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold more than 40 million albums.

Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. She performed at top venues all over the world and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common — they all loved her.

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (SJMO) was founded in 1990 with an appropriation from the U.S. Congress in recognition of the importance of jazz in American cultural and its status as a national treasure. The orchestra, led by Artistic and Musical Director, David N. Baker, serves as the orchestra-in-residence at the National Museum of American History, Division of Cultural History.

The orchestra re-creates big band jazz as its composers and arrangers intended it to be played, stripping away intervening changes and alterations.

The SJMO has rediscovered old classics, premiered new discoveries and more recently has begun premiering new works. Composed of musicians drawn from across the United States, the orchestra plays authentic and compelling performances of the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie and many other masters.

“Bless you, child. Keep singing.” Such was the encouragement jazz vocalist Kim Nazarian received during a brief but unforgettable encounter with her idol, Ella Fitzgerald.

A native “up-state” New Yorker and Magna Cum Laude graduate of Ithaca College, Nazarian is a founding member of the Grammy award-winning group New York Voices, formed in 1987.

She has recorded numerous CDs and toured the world with this outstanding vocal quartet.

For its most recent project, the group took on the role of featured artist with Paquito D’Rivera on his latest release for the MCG Jazz label: Brazilian Dreams. Nazarian is also a featured artist on a number of other CDs released on the MCG Jazz label, including “Afternoon In Rio with Joe Negri,” “The 21st Century Swing Band” and the highly acclaimed “A Nancy Wilson Christmas.”

Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra’s “A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald” will be performed at the Harris Center, 10 College Parkway in Folsom.

Tickets are priced at $25 to $39, premium for $45 and students with ID $12. Tickets are available online at or from the Harris Center ticket office at 916-608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday and two hours before show time. Parking is included in the price of the ticket.

Harris Center for the Arts

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