Here’s a clip of jazz vocal matriarch and sweetly-voiced Louis Armstrong foil Ella Fitzgerald, performing Brecht & Weill’s “Mack the Knife”, a song she made her own, although not without some interesting blips along the way. This is a performance from 1966. I wish I could find a clip of the 1960 album track, which is very special indeed.*

[Actually, these few years later, here is Ella Fitzgerald’s “Mack the Knife”, to which I referred. The clip is dead, I fear. Alas, poor YouTube. I knew him well.]

On her 1960 Ella in Berlin record, Fitzgerald busted this tune wide open in a way she probably did not expect.

She forgot the words.

Ella Fitzgerald; a consumate professional
Ella Fitzgerald; a consummate professional

But rather than this turning into a disaster, she did what jazz musicians do. She improvised. And I don’t mean scat singing in this case, although she’s known for that. Nope. She made up her own words. For this, she earned a very well-deserved Grammy for best female vocal performance the following year, not to mention kudos for her professionalism and creative spark as tested in real time, in front of a real audience.

You’ll notice in this clip, she takes the existing words and adds to them as well, name checking Bobby Darin, who had a hit with this tune, as did Louis Armstrong (who she imitates affectionately). Where a lot of singers might look ruefully upon material they find difficult, Ella owns this, and makes a potential screw up into something joyous and fun.


2 thoughts on “Ella Fitzgerald Sings “Mack the Knife”

  1. Probably my favourite Ella Fitzgerald piece. She does do some scat singing to get through it though– not as much as she improvises but a bit.

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