Friday, September 14, 2007

The Lost Ella Fitzgerald Film

In 1960 a jazz icon arrived at Cardiff Central station. Ella Fitzgerald disembarked from the train and strode regally along the platform. Musicians burdened with instruments and equipment followed in her wake. She was greeted by Frederick Newton manager of the Gaumont Theatre. They exchanged pleasantries. She signed autographs for the few fans who had come to greet her.

Outside Fitzgerald surveyed the grey South Wales skies as she waited for a cab. This was her second visit to the city - 4 years previously she had performed at Sophia Gardens Pavilion. When her taxi arrived it whisked her off to television studios in Pontcanna where she recorded a piece (was it an interview or a song?) for a Welsh programme called Here Today. It would be broadcast at 6.30 that same evening.

Coincidentally her first show also started at 6.30pm. She was scheduled to perform for two houses - both of which were sold out. The jazz package of which she was the star attraction was called Jazz at the Philharmonic. Stalwarts like Shelly Manne and the Jimmy Guiffre Trio warmed up the audience. Then Fitzgerald came on.

The applause was warm and spontaneous. She stood before her Welsh fans in a white dress and kicked off with S'wonderful. At the song's conclusion the audience applauded for over a minute. She did versions of Mack the Knife and Misty improvising impressions of Joe Williams and Louis Armstrong along the way. Her voice was lucid, each word delivered with cool but soulful precision. Both shows were a huge success.

So what about this TV show then? Is there an archive at ITV of old local network programmes; or were the tapes erased, re-used, lost? I don't know. But I like to think there is a dusty, forgotten box somewhere containing a precious piece of film showing Ella on Welsh soil.