Last month Verve released several of the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook and Decca recordings as Mastered for iTunes (MFit) files. What this means, in simple terms, is that listeners can now hear remastered recordings of Ella’s voice that are more faithful to the original analog recordings than any digital recordings to date. Recent innovations in digital recording technology, driven by listeners’ preference for digital downloads over CDs, allow for this enhanced audio experience. Verve’s re-release of these historically important, technologically superior recordings arrives just in time.

Fitzgerald would have turned 100 on April 25 of this year. Already the tributes are in full swing mode: the Apollo Theater kicked off its commemorative series, 100: The Apollo Celebrates Ella, with a blockbuster concert featuring an array of stars back in October 2016. The series continues on Mar. 23 with Live Wire: Ella! A Centennial Celebration, a discussion on the life of the iconic singer at the theater where she got her start back in 1934. Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin, professor of English and African-American Studies at Columbia University, will moderate.

JALC also offers an Ella tribute this month with WeBop Family Jazz Party: Dizzy & Ella on Mar. 11. This interactive educational event will focus on the music that Fitzgerald created with bandleader Dizzy Gillespie and give the next generation of jazz listeners their first taste of tunes like “Salt Peanuts” and “A-Tisket A-Tasket.”  Kids get to move, sing, play instruments, and listen to stories during the 45-minute session.  

With their February release, Laughing At Life (Anzic Records), NYC-based Duchess solidifies their reputation as one of the most exciting (and whimsical) swing vocal groups to emerge in recent years. The three vocalists—Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou—are all known as solid solo performers in their own right yet are able to nail the sweet spot between individual expression and group harmony. Oded Lev-Ari’s carefully choreographed arrangements and the singers’ complementary vocal timbres help to establish the group dynamic; the singers joke easily together and willingly share the spotlight with each other. From the infectious drive of the first tune, “Swing Brother Swing” to the quiet charm of “Dawn,” a first-time recording of the little-known tune by singer Vet Boswell, each track is unfailingly engaging. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon puts in a star turn on one of the standout tracks on the recording—a sweet, slow rendition of “Stars Fell on Alabama”—and clarinetist Anat Cohen contributes some virtuosic solo lines to the relentless swing of “Everybody Loves My Baby.” The recording is full of tongue-in-cheek moments, but don’t be fooled. The talent here is serious.  

On March 24, Grammy-winner Eliane Elias will release her next CD, Dance of Time (Concord), a satisfying jumble of bossas and sambas that Elias sings sometimes in Portuguese, sometimes in English, sometimes in both. The Brazilian singer-pianist opens the album with the engaging classic “O Pato” (The Duck) played at a bright, syncopated clip, the smooth vocals standing in contrast to Elias’ high-energy piano soloing. The album contains some other intriguing twists: “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me” as a sensuous, laid-back samba and “Speak Low” in a double-time feel with R&B backing vocals by singer Mark Kibble. To create this album, recorded in Brazil, Elias brought several impressive friends and mentors from both Brazil and the U.S. into the studio: pianist Amilton Godoy, singer-guitarists João Bosco and Toquinho, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. Elias’ current tour takes her to Birdland March 26 through April 1.

Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz will present bassist/producer Kim Clarke’s Lady Got Chops Jazz Festival in honor of women’s history month. SIs-Stars, a group comprising singers Sheryl Renee, Patsy Grant, and Joy F. Brown are set to deliver an evening of powerhouse vocals on Mar. 4 at Nuyorican Poets Café.

Avant-garde pianist-composer Mara Rosenbloom will join with singer-percussionist Anais Maviel and bassist Adam Lane (together, the Mara Rosenbloom Flyways) to present a musical setting of “from Twenty-One Love Poems” by feminist writer Adrienne Rich at iBeam on March 10.  

Singer-songwriter Norah Jones will take time out from her Day Breaks (Blue Note) tour to give an intimate benefit concert on Mar. 22 at Bell House in Brooklyn. Proceeds go to The Child Life Program at the Brooklyn Hospital Center. Check Jones’ website for details.

(Reprinted from the March 2017 edition of The New York City Jazz Record.)