Notes From The Conductor: Growing Up Ella

Ella Fitzgerald was a figure in my life from the very beginning, before I knew she was famous, and before I realized how many lives she had touched. My grandmother looked after her, Oscar Peterson, and Joe Pass for many years, and at Verve Records as assistant to Norman Granz for many years before that. I visited Ella’s house in Beverly Hills every Christmas with my family, went to countless performances, and spent lots of time with her. She treated me and my brothers like grandchildren. At the time, I didn’t know how lucky I was to be around her and so many other great jazz artists, it was just a fact of life for me. I never thought of it then, but I wonder what it would have been like if I had talked to her more about music, what questions I would have asked, and what her answers would have been!

Over the years, I would tell stories about Ella and my grandmother to my friends and colleagues. I began to realize that I did have something inspiring and helpful to relate to them, and that my answers to their questions were truly appreciated. It always felt strange sharing these things, because Ella was a very private person, and no one worked harder to ensure her privacy than my grandmother. About a year ago, when my own Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony asked me to put together a concert that included these recollections, I finally felt the time was right. This is because after answering questions about Ella over the years I gradually figured out a way to express who she was as a person and musician with respect, clarity and maturity. More importantly, I wanted to share the story of my grandmother, Mary Jane Outwater, who was a brilliant, creative, and groundbreaking woman. Like many women of her era, she was a kind of hidden figure, but she had the complete trust, confidence and admiration of many of the most legendary figures and primary creators of jazz.

I hope you enjoy this musical journey and I’m thrilled that Capathia Jenkins will be “Ella’s voice” tonight. I couldn’t think of a better person to carry her torch.

– Edwin Outwater