‘Ella’ takes the stage: Allentown Symphony Pops, vocalists, pay tribute to icon
When Aisha De Haas was growing up in Chicago, the jazz sounds of Ella Fitzgerald were part of her aural landscape.
Her father was a jazz bassist, her mother a vocalist, and the family had moved to the Windy City to play jazz.
“She sang and he played,” De Haas says. “I was introduced to this music in the womb.”
De Haas is one of three singers paying tribute to the Queen of Jazz in “A Tribute to Ella,” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.
De Haas joins Capathia Jenkins and Nikki Renee Daniels, backed by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra as part of the ASO’s Pops series.
Ronald Demkee, ASO Associate Conductor, is at the podium in a salute to Fitzgerald’s distinctive vocal style. The concert was created in 2017 for the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald’s birth.
De Haas says the concert includes songs that feature the iimprovisational scat-singing Fitzgerald (1917 - 1996) was known for, as well as songs she performed that “were true to the ink.”
De Haas was introduced to the First Lady of Song as a child when Fitzgerald’s jazz-infused style “was the the pop music of the day.”
De Haas, who sang with the world renowned Chicago Children’s Choir, studied music at Columbia College Chicago and, as soon as she graduated, started sitting in in jazz clubs in Chicago.
She moved to New York in 1997 where she sang on Broadway in “Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk,” “Rent” and “Caroline, Or Change.”
She says her “greatest love” has always been the Great American Songbook.
De Haas got involved with “A Tribute the Ella” on the recommendation of fellow singer Jenkins, whom she describes as her “BFF.” The two women had worked together, singing back-up for gospel and soul singer Oleta Adams, and both also played the role of Medda in the hit Disney production of “Newsies,” Jenkins on Broadway and De Haas on the first National Tour.
“Carpathia suggested me because she knew Ella was one of my favorites and she knew I could scat,” De Haas says.
Fitzgerald came to fame in 1938 with her rendition of a song based on the nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” with the Chick Webb Orchestra. She took over the band when Webb died, and then left for a successful solo career that included musical collaborations with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and The Ink Spots.
In her nearly 60-year career, Fitzgerald received 14 Grammy awards, the National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
For the Miller Symphony Hall concert, De Haas, Jenkins and Daniels start out singing together and then take turns offering their own takes on music made popular by Fitzgerald.
“We are not imitating her but paying tribute to her stylistically,” De Haas says.
She says anyone familiar with the music from the Great American Songbook will recognize songs such as “A Foggy Day,” “But Not for Me,” “How High the Moon,” “Mr. Paganini (You’ll Have to Swing It),” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Strike Up The Band” and “The Man I Love.”
De Haas says she especially loves having the “sheer energy of a symphony orchestra” backing them up.
“There’s nothing like it,” she says. “This is some of the greatest music that we as a country have produced, and to be able to bring it an audience live like this is special.”
Jenkins comes from a background of Broadway musicals including “The Civil War”; “The Look of Love,” a revue of Bacharach-David hits; “Caroline, Or Change,” and “Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.” She was in “The Wiz Live!” on NBC-TV in 2015.
De Haas says Daniels is new to the show but is “a really fantasttic singer” and they are looking forward to singing together.
Daniels has appeared on Broadway in “The Book of Mormon,” “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” “Les Misérables” “Anything Goes” and “Promises Promises.”
She was in “The Sound of Music: Live” on NBC-TV in 2013.
De Haas most recently performed at the famous New York City jazz club Birdland doing “Jazzer at Heart,” her own show of “songs I’ve loved and sang through the years.”
She looks forward to continuing to perform Fitzgerald’s songs with “A Tribute to Ella!”
“I love this style of music,” she says. “This is a dream job.”
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715