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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Friends with Ella? Absolutely.



A good friend gave me a journal with writing prompts. It is called "Writing Prompts for the Creative Scribe".  I took it as a sign not to give up writing which I have been seriously contemplating.  It has just been too stressful to get it done.

Thanks Mai Tai!!

Welcome to my first post.  A few notes.  Writing is the only place where OCD keeps me from functioning.  Thankfully, with intervention there is recovery! You will see typos, you will see incorrect grammar and spelling mistakes because the goal is to get to "The End" in a reasonable amount of time.  By fighting the urge to re-write the same sentence a gazillion times, or press the delete button over and over again,  I am re-training my writer's brain to function as it should.   Writers obsess about words, or stories. They want 'it' to be right.  But I realized that is not what I do.  I am not trying to make my words, my story, my writing better.  I am trying to make myself feel better, to alleviate the pressure or stress of writing by backspacing, deleting, and then writing the same thing over and over again.   I have write and just let it fly.   Which I am not doing at the moment  - so I have to move on right now.

Eventually I will get back to all the norms and disciplines of a good writer.  Make no mistake, I am correcting as I go and this is not a free form, free flow type of deal.  But there is no working for countless hours  to get a blog post "just so."

Now - on to the prompt.

If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Where would you meet them and what would you talk about?

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella could put me into a trance of sorts.  I didn't lose myself or the world around me, it was the opposite actually.  Her voice could make me lock into place where I felt at home in my own skin and kinda sort knew my place in the world.

There was something about Ella that was healing and restorative for me.  Especially during college where I played her Gershwin Songbook over and over again.  Her voice, her phrasing, her musicality, her tone - when it all came together - I would be okay.  Somehow she sang "me" even when the lyrics painted images of a life that in no way mirrored my own.

I would want to meet Ella in her room.  That place where she felt the most safe, comfortable and inspired.  I have no idea where that would be.  Whether it would be in New York, Paris or down south.  I don't know if it would be a room from her childhood, or one from the height of her success.

I imagine it would be relatively small and cozy, furnished sparingly but with big comfortable furniture. There would be touches of non-pretentious beauty in artwork and photographs.  In my mind's eyes I see a clear vase full of fresh pink flowers sitting on top of a aged reddish brown baby grand tucked as much as it could be tucked in the corner of the room.  I see a window open towards the sun.

It would be around 1965.   Her hair would be short, pressed and pin-curled.  No need for her wigs and pieces. I imagine her in a simple grey dress with a rhinestone and pearl  star burst brooch near the shoulder.  She would slip off her shoes and lean comfortably on the arm of her sofa. I would be able to tell that she was in "her spot".  The place she memorized her lyrics or casually warmed up her voice.

I would be sitting across from her , but close, in a armchair.  A round table would be caddy corner between us hosting hot tea with no sugar and pound cake.  The old black bakelite phone was unplugged.

Ella would smile frequently causing her round cheeks to rise. She spoke gently and eased into her laugh.  The voice carefully smooth and light.

I would ask her what she felt when she sang.  Not the songs that the corporate music machine made her sing.  Not those.  I would ask her about the songs she felt a soulful connection to.  I would ask her what it felt like when she transcended being a singer and became the song.

I would ask her when she knew she was gifted.  What led her to realize she could hear and do things that others simply could not.  I would ask her when she first stood up for herself as a musician.

I would want to know how much she practised and how she perfected her gift.  I would want to know how many hours a day she put into her craft to become that great.  I would ask about the moments she wanted to give it up, but knew she couldn't.

I would want to know about the musicians she had to put in their place when they tried to treat her like just another girl singer.   I would want to know who was intimidated and who wasn't.  I suspect the real greats like Count Basie and Duke Ellington respected her.  I imagine some of the female singers of the time, particularly the white women who were told to replicate her sound, may not have been as respectful or kind.

I would ask her what Marilyn Monroe was like.  I would beg her to tell me juicy secrets about Bille Holiday and Lena Horne.  I would want to know if she knew Eartha Kitt well, and what she really thought off Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra.  She would keep her laugh quiet and hide her smile behind her hand when she knew she was being 'bad'.  She was honest, but never cruel or vindictive.

I think Ella would be generous and kind.

Funny thing is that I did meet her once.  She performed an outdoor concert at my college.  I was absolutely floored by her talent and skill even though she was so old.  It looked as though her wig weighed more than she did and her glasses were obviously for cosmetic reasons, because she could not see a thing.  I remember people saying it was the best concert. Ever.

If I remember correctly, there was a trailer or private tent set up for her, and she was very welcoming as people came for autographs or to shake her hand.  We were not allowed flash photography, Ella herself explained that it hurt her eyes.  One guy didn't care, he came with his big black camera and started flashing away.  I remembered she cried out in surprise and me and another person that I can't remember yelled and shoved him out the way.

She signed my ticket stub, which was my prized possession until it disappeared from my apartment a couple years later along with the address and home telephone number of Gwendolyn Brooks.  I still kick myself for being careless.

A few years later I saw her at one of her last concerts.

Maybe one day, when all this is over and done with I will get to have my conversation with Ella.


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