On Center: Regina Carter and Bandmates Will Honor Ella Fitzgerald at Schwab
If someone can evoke the sound and spirit of one of the most beloved jazz vocalists of all time – without being a singer – it’s Regina Carter.
In the realm of jazz violinists, Carter reigns at the pinnacle of the pyramid. The MacArthur Foundation “genius” Fellowship recipient will make her sixth appearance on a Penn State stage to honor Ella Fitzgerald.
Carter’s Simply Ella concert, a January 31 Center for the Performing Arts presentation at Schwab Auditorium, will feature music from the Ella: Accentuate the Positive album, released in 2017 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth, plus other selections.
The violinist grew up in a Detroit home in which music was often playing. “To this very day, whenever I hear an Ella recording it grabs me at my core,” Carter says. “I’m entranced by her voice, her melodic improvisations, and the passion and artfulness with which Ella sings a song. She helps me understand a song by providing a window to its essence.”
The album is a “beguiling tribute” on which Carter “honors Ella Fitzgerald with exceptional warmth and sincerity,” notes a Jazziz critic.
“Violinist Regina Carter is at the top of her art on this fantastic tribute …,” writes a DownBeatreviewer. “Carter shows she is in full command of her talents from the downbeat of the opening tune, ‘Accentuate the Positive,’ a very original take on an old chestnut. … At the heart of this album are tunes so familiar you can see the words floating across the sky as they’re virtually sung with melodic perfection by Carter’s violin.”
Carter studied classical violin at the New England Conservatory of Music before taking a different path.
“When I transferred to Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, I went to the big band director there, Marvin ‘Doc’ Holladay, who played with Dizzy (Gillespie) and many others, and I told him I wanted to play jazz. And he told me to stop listening to the violin players I was listening to and to listen to vocalists and horn players. He said for the phrasing and the breathing,” she recalls in an interview with a reporter for Digital First Media.
“And then I remember meeting the great ‘Big Nick Nicholas,’ and I was playing a tune, a vocal tune … and he said, ‘Do you know the words to that tune? And I said ‘No.’ And he said, ‘I can tell by the way you’re playing it. You must always learn the words.’ And that was such important and vital information. Because if you don’t know the words, then you’re just messing around with a melody.”
Carter will be joined by her band, which includes keyboardist Xavier Davis, bassist Chris Lightcap, guitarist Marvin Sewell, and drummer Alvester Garnett. Each of the musicians performs on the Accentuate the Positive recording.
“If you get a chance to experience Regina Carter: Simply Ella …, then buy your tickets now,” writes a reviewer for DCMetroTheatreArts.com. “With each song, the quintet started a conversation, with Ms. Carter’s violin leading the way, usually in a whisper, as if to bring the audience closer into the secret, the secret of Ella’s magical tones.”
Patricia Best and Thomas Ray sponsor the concert. For tickets or information, go to cpa.psu.edu or call (814) 863-0255.
John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.