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Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center


By Spotlight Central, Photos by Love Imagery

originally published: 03/25/2024

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Spring is in the air this Friday, March 15, 2024 evening as music lovers make their way inside Toms River, NJ's Grunin Center for the Arts for a live performance of Ella: The Early Years, a celebration of the early career of Ella Fitzgerald told through stories and songs by singer and jazz preservationist Amanda King.

Inside the Grunin Center auditorium, the lights dim and pianist Jon Weber, bassist Noah Garabedian, and drummer Andrew Millar take the stage. They introduce vocalist Amanda King who makes her entrance performing a swinging rendition of “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Crooning in her sweet, clear voice, “Savoy, the home of sweet romance/Savoy, it wins you with a glance,” King explains that, in the 1930s, the Savoy Ballroom was a Harlem, NY venue where Ella Fitzgerald often performed with the Chick Webb Orchestra.

After transporting the audience back to 1934 with her rendition of “Judy,” King talks about how, as a teenager, Ella Fitzgerald made her stage debut on “amateur night” at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

According to King, Ella — who was nicknamed “snake hips” because of her love of dancing — had originally planned to dance at the Apollo, but once she heard The Edwards Sisters harmonize, decided to sing a number in the style of one of her mother’s favorite vocalists, Connee Boswell.



 
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Following her Apollo performance, Fitzgerald was invited to sing with bandleader Chick Webb. Here, King performs Ella’s debut recording with Webb, “Love and Kisses.” She follows up with the jazzy “I’ll Chase the Blues Away,” where King swings as Noah Garabedian slaps the strings of his bass and Andrew Millar keeps solid time on the drums.

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

King talks at length about Fitzgerald’s difficult youth where, following her mother’s death, she was sent to the New York State Training School for Girls, but was arrested for truancy and ended up living on the streets, busking, dancing, and working as a lookout at a house of ill repute.

After her Apollo appearance, however, Chick Webb invited Ella to front his band where she earned $1600 a month singing songs like “Everybody Step,” an uptempo number where King demonstrates her own vocal range and agility, and “The Dipsy Doodle,” a rhythmic number where King’s upbeat performance elicits enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Joking, “This is as political as I get in this show,” King performs Fitzgerald’s breezy “Vote for Mr. Rhythm” where she cries, “Vote for Mr. Rhythm/Raise up your voice/And vote for Mr. Rhythm/The people’s choice/You’ll be happy with him/Take my advice/And vote for Mr. Rhythm/I’m voting twice.”

Explaining how Chick Webb went on to become a mentor and father figure to Fitzgerald, King recounts that Webb would allow Ella to sit in at jam sessions following performances, which is where she learned to scat sing. Here, in tribute to Webb, King performs “You Showed Me the Way,” where her vocal floats above the band’s accompaniment and Garabedian bends the strings of his bass as he solos with feeling.

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Referring to Ella as “the Taylor Swift of her day,” King performs Fitzgerald’s million-seller, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which has heads bopping and toes tapping before concertgoers respond with avid cheers and applause.

Noting that, romantically, Ella experienced a great deal of pain in her life, King performs a slow and poignant version of “It Had to Be You” accompanied by Jon Webber on the piano.

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center



 
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On this number, Webber solos with skill and musicality. At the conclusion, King exclaims, “Jon really gave us all the feels!”

After introducing her musical colleagues, King segues into another 1930s hit in the vein of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” — “My Wubba Dolly” — a number which Woody Guthrie sang as “My Rubber Dolly.” She and the band follow up with the easy-going “Organ Grinder’s Swing,” where King’s rhythmic vocal is deftly supported by the band.

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

According to King, Chick Webb — who suffered health problems for much of his life — “wrote this next song a few months before he died at the age of 34.” Showcasing her vocal talents, King gives a lovely interpretation of “If You Only Knew” where she is skillfully accompanied by Noah Garabedian on stand-up bass.

The crowd cheers, and King thanks the audience, saying, “It’s so nice to be here in New Jersey!” before sailing into the hauntingly beautiful “Moon Ray.” With her rich, resonant tone and spot-on diction, King cries, “So, moonray/Put an end to all my sorrows/Bless me with sweet tomorrows/Bring back my love to me,” eliciting ardent audience applause.

After following up with a swinging interpretation of “Bei Mir Best Du Schön,” King exits the stage but returns to perform an encore of “(If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini),” inspiring the crowd to stand and applaud for her Ella: The Early Years performance.

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

As music lovers make their way out of the Grunin Center auditorium, many stop to chat with King in the Grunin Center lobby as she signs autographs and poses for photos. Here, she reveals her motivation for creating Ella: The Early Years, explaining, “I was always interested in movie musicals from the ’30s and ’40s, and that’s what brought me to Ella. When I started doing research on this period, I learned that Ella went through many struggles, and I thought this was something people needed to know about.”

Referring to her own background, King recalls, “I’m originally from Indiana but moved to San Francisco and now live in Las Vegas,” prior to sharing her thoughts about New Jersey, recalling, “I remember the first time I came here back in the ’90s and was surprised to see how green it is — I mean, it is the Garden State!”

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Continuing, “New Jersey is a really cool place and tonight’s audience was wonderful,” King reflects, “I feel they truly appreciated the show — I could see audience members moving to the music, and I love it when people can bop and rock to Ella’s music!”

Acknowledging, “As a jazz preservationist, I believe we should never forget all the greats who have come before,” King concludes by asserting, “People like Ella have lived such hard lives to make their music and it bothers me that some of them have been forgotten — this is why, as a singer, it’s my calling to keep their memories alive.”

Amanda King in "Ella: The Early Years" LIVE! at the Grunin Center

To learn more about Amanda King and Ella: The Early Years, please go to amandaking.com. For information on upcoming performances at Toms River’s Grunin Center for the Arts — including The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass on April 6, The Weeklings BeatlesBash! on April 13, and Chris Ruggiero’s Summer Serenade on June 9 — please click on grunincenter.org.



 
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Photos by Love Imagery

Spotlight Central. Your source for Jersey entertainment news and reviews

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