cover image Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz

Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz

Stuart Nicholson. Scribner Book Company, $23 (334pp) ISBN 978-0-684-19699-2

For his exhaustive biography, Nicholson ( Jazz: The Modern Resurgence ) draws on written accounts of the legendary singer and on interviews with her childhood friends and musicians who have worked with her; he was unable to arrange to talk with Fitzgerald herself. The result is a thorough, dispassionate account of a career that began in 1935 when, at age 17, the singer first appeared in New York City's Apollo Theater and the Harlem Opera House. Nicholson shows how Fitzgerald was advanced by Milt Gabler at Decca and by promoter Norman Granz; he follows the grueling schedule to which she subjected herself and provides lucid analyses of her style and place in the history of jazz and 20th-century popular music. Although there are accounts here of her continuously unhappy love life, Fitzgerald's personality remains obscure, possibly a reflection of a performer to whom nothing other than singing seems to really matter. Discography by Phil Schaap. Photos not seen by PW. (May)