BWW Interview: Michelle Johnson of MICHELLE JOHNSON PRESENTS A TRIBUTE TO ELLA FITZGERALD at Myron's Cabaret Jazz At The Smith Center
April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and Ella Fitzgerald embodied this genre. Popular vocalist Michelle Johnson, who is known as Las Vegas' First Lady of Jazz, will pay tribute to Ella, who has been called the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella, when she presents Michelle Johnson Presents A Tribute To Ella Fitzgerald at the Myron's Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center on April 19.
Ella was noted for her purity of tone, phrasing, intonation, impeccable diction, and improvisational ability, particularly in scat singing. The show will feature a 10-piece band with special guest Grammy-nominated jazz singer Jane Monheit.
Johnson also offers her own versatility, love of jazz, unique voice, and impressive range to share her talents honoring the great Ella Fitzgerald.
What was it about Ella that inspired you to perform this show?
Michelle Johnson: She is my favorite singer. Like Ella, I sing in a variety of genres, but I am known in Las Vegas for jazz. April is Jazz Appreciation month, and with so many concerts being performed, I wanted to show a special appreciation to Ella and all of her contributions. This is something I have always wanted to do.
Let's make it clear that this is a tribute and you are not impersonating Ella. How have you prepared for this show?
Michelle Johnson: Yes, it is definitely a tribute. I am paying homage to her and I have been collecting her big band charts for a couple of years. I was able to purchase the original charts that she performed with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra from a company that is sanctioned by the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation.
There is only one Ella, and no one can sing like her. However, we can honor her and share little known facts about her. She started out as a dancer before she became a singer. This is cabaret in an intimate setting sharing songs, backstories, and her colorful history.
Tell us about your special guest Jane Monheit.
Michelle Johnson: Jane is a celebrated contemporary jazz singer with a gorgeous voice, and she is one of my favorite singers carrying on the torch of performing the Great American Songbook. People who love this genre can embrace a younger artist and the evolution of great music.
She joins artists such as Tierney Sutton, Michael Bubble and Harry Connick, Jr. with the return of the popularity of jazz singers and jazz standards.
In fact, Jane has just recorded her own tribute to Ella as her latest release, The Songbook Sessions. Jane and I met at The Smith Center. I have attended several of her shows, gotten to know her, and now we are friends and colleagues. I am so honored she will be sharing the stage with me.
What about the songs?
In my opinion, Ella is the quintessential artist to record those songs. She is just perfect for those songs. I love it when a young person discovers her.
When you listen to her recordings, she sings it straight the first time. As a jazz singer, I think she is unparalleled. Ella was also a musician and could sing like a trumpet. She had an ear for the changes in a song, the chords. She breathed life into every song and made it special. This is why composers wanted her to record their songs.
What else do you want to bring to the show?
Michelle Johnson: I want to bring this era of elegance, class and pure music back, even if just for an evening. We have an amazing ten-piece band led by Bill Zappia, who has been the musical conductor for many acts including Sheena Easton and his current show, the Terry Fator show. I want to take the audience on a journey like they are in a time warp. I hope everyone dresses up; I would love that.
My mom would comment she didn't know how I turned out this way and I explained it was the records she listened to and I loved that time.
What other projects are you working on?
Michelle Johnson: I am thrilled to be recording my original music. Many people do not know that I am also a singer and songwriter. I sing in many different genres and perform many tributes, and this album will showcase my various styles. I love jazz, but I love other genres as well.
On my bucket list is to sing one of Ella's songbooks backed up by a full orchestra like the Las Vegas Philharmonic. I won't stop until I make that dream happen!