Jazz Notes: Virtuoso Violinist Regina Carter Brings Positive Vibes to Jazz Standard With the Music of Ella Fitzgerald
By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, May 22, 2017
Last month, virtuoso violinist Regina Carter released her tenth album, Ella: Accentuate the Positive, on SonyMusic Masterwork’s imprint OKeh. It’s not only a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald’s in the centennial of her birth, but it’s a personal homage to the First Lady of Song. “I love Ella,” said Carter between her sound check and the first-night set of her lively and gracious four-night stand at Jazz Standard. “I’ve always loved her since I was a child. We had lots of music around the house. My brothers were listening to Motown, the Beatles and there was lots of jazz. But the first time I put on an Ella record, I felt that motherly love wrap around me. I loved the music because it I could go to another place. When I was a teenager, I would daydream about going out on a date and dancing to Ella’s music.”
A MacArthur Foundation Award fellow in 2006, Carter had recorded some Fitzgerald tunes in her earlier albums, but decided to dive deep into the Ella catalogue to play tunes that were not as well-known. Of all the songs she recorded, the most recognizable of the songs from the Fitzgerald songbooks is the buoyant “Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” written in 1944 my Harold Arlen (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics). Carter said that given the troubled times we’re living in, “We need some positive vibes.” In the show at Jazz Standard, Carter invited her good friend, Carla Cook, to sing the song with her crack band, including guitar master Marvin Sewell and a dynamic rhythm team of Chris Lightcap on bass and Alvester Garnett on drums.
Cook, a friend from Detroit’s renowned music program at Cass Technical School, was the person who inspired Carter to take up the violin. The two have been tight ever since. “Actually, it’s funny because Carla is the person who said I had to do this album,” Carter said. “Then I knew that a lot of people would be doing Ella tributes, so I decided not to do the tunes people think of when they think about Ella. I decided to showcase songs that weren’t as popular like ‘Crying in the Chapel and ‘I’ll Chase the Blues Away.’ I call them the B-sides.”
After her youthful enthusiasm with Fitzgerald, Carter continued to be magically inspired by her and her music. “When I became an adult, I realized how incredible her voice—her instrument—was,” she said. “She’s another. More like she’s an other—a very spiritual being that no one else could be. Playing her music is my connection to her. Her music has always made me happy, upbeat. In the mornings, I would put on a pot of coffee and listen to Ella. That was how I started my day.”
Carter also reflected on how Fitzgerald was so inclusive about her artistry: “Ella gave us such a wealth of music from r&b to swing, from country and western to soul. Everything. She just loved the music. One of the things that most attracted me to her was that she didn’t create boundaries in her music. She just sang because that’s what she loved to do.”
But the best way to describe the marvel is how Carter expressed it in the Ella: Accentuate the Positive liner notes she wrote about one of the singer’s piano accompanists: “Perhaps Jimmy Rowles said it best. Music comes out of her…When Ella walks down the street, she leaves notes.”
Cover: Regina Carter; courtesy of the artist.