Monday Notes

Ella Fitzgerald, A Tisket a Tasket

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[Monday Notes] Ella Fitzgerald is one of the most important jazz singers, her Song books are monumental and must-have works, her vocal improvisations a model for any aspiring jazz singer. However, it was not a song that launched her to success in 1938 but a simple nursery rhyme entitled A Tisket, a Tasket.

A Tisket, a Tasket is a little tune that can be considered the American equivalent of the Italian Girotondo or the French Frère Jacques. The song is sung by children during their playtime, and is an elementary melody consisting of only five notes and two chords.

What chords? The tonic and dominant chords, of course, creating the simplest of cadences, the perfect cadence. Let’s look at the transcription of the melody of A Tisket, a Tasket. We can recognise the key of A flat major and the chords of the 1st and 5th degrees that create the perfect cadence, Ab and Eb7.

Ella Fitzgerald A Tisket a Tasket sheet music

Ella Fitzerald and Chick Webb’s orchestra turn A Tisket, a Tasket into a witty musical joke. Cabaret numbers were an integral part of any jazz orchestra’s show, but this is not enough to explain the song’s astounding success.

There is clearly something more to Ella Fitzgerald. Her interpretations express a joy of singing and living that is compelling and exciting. She knows how to give even the most melancholic ballad a benevolent and optimistic touch. This is why her approach to music is completely different from that of her contemporary Billie Holiday.

Even in such a playful and light song, we can appreciate the great precision with which Chick Webb and his orchestra perform the piece. The piece is carefully arranged, with the question-and-answer game between singer and orchestra (minute 2’18”) or the modulation of the theme into a minor mode (minute 1’21”).

Ella Fitzgerald A Tisket a Tasket minor mode modulation

Obviously the few measures of the original motif were not enough to make a three-minute song, so the piece was elaborated and extended, using the melody of A Tisket, a Tasket only as a starting point.

In addition to the aforementioned Songbooks dedicated to the most important American songwriters, Ella Fitzgerald’s most memorable interpretations include delightful duets with Louis Armstrong.

During her long career Ella Fitzgerald often sang A Tisket, a Tasket. Many times she would quote from it during her improvisations in other songs. Evidently Ella never forgot her first unexpected success, achieved when she was little more than a young girl.

Until next monday!

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