Reprinted from yesterday's late edition
Just as the uniform number of a superlative athlete is sometimes retired in his honor, "St. Louis Blues" should probably be retired when - if - Ella Fitzgerald ever decides to give up singing.
In fact, several famous songs may never be the same after Fitzgerald's appearance Thursday at Wolf Trap. Dooley Wilson no longer has exclusive rights to "As TimeGoes By"; Bob Hope has completely lost his claim on "Thanks for the Memory"; and for the first time Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" had meat on its fragile bones.
Fitzgerald's voice is not just one fine instrument; it is several. She can spin out the hot scat song of a clarinet, the husky come-on of a saxophone and the primitive wail of a trombone. Add to that the percussive nonsense syllables of her pure jazz vocalizing and she could almost singlehandedly fill the band stands of her beloved Duke Ellington.
Of her repertoire, which spans the 4 1/2 decades she has been singing professionally, perhaps the most fascinating are the scat songs; within the framework of one number - "How High Is the Moon," for instance - she dances between the lines of a dozen other songs, barely brushing them before jumping back into the wordless rhythms.
In her first appearance in the area in several years (her last was more private, a 1976 White House function), Fitzgerald packed both the amphitheater and the lawn back nearly to the ticket booth. In response to the requests being thrown at her from all over the audience, she inserted into her program her first major hit, "A-Tisket A-Tasket." Aware of both the limitations and the dignity of her 60 years, she restricted herself to one encore, despite a fervent standing ovation.
A special mention should be made of the Don Abney Trio, who not only backed up the star but, along with trumpet soloist Roy Eldridge, offered a smoothly, smartly proficient opening act.