In my tribute to Ella Fitzgerald on her birthday last week, I mentioned mentioned that, after he sold the Verve label, Norman Granz founded the Pablo label to continue recording Ella. To test the market for a new label, Granz put together an all-star concert featuring Ella and the Count Basie Band at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in June 1972 that was to be recorded and released (unsuccessfully, with distribution by mail only) on four Pablo albums. That memorable evening is now preserved on the three-disc set Jazz at the Santa Monica Civic ’72.
The evening culminated in the performance of “C Jam Blues.” Scott Yanow’s Allmusic profile observes:
Fitzgerald’s later years were saved by Norman Granz’s decision to form…Pablo. Starting with a Santa Monica Civic concert in 1972 that is climaxed by Fitzgerald’s incredible version of “C Jam Blues” (in which she trades off with and “battles” five classic jazzmen), Fitzgerald was showcased in jazz settings throughout the 1970s with the likes of Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, and Joe Pass, among others.
Tad Hershorn describes Fitzgerald’s performance at the Santa Monica concert this way in his biography of Granz:
Fitzgerald and the Tommy Flanagan Trio swung through a list of numbers before the singer, backed by the Basie band, did “Shiny Stockings,” a Cole Porter medley and a version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” that left the audience roaring their applause. Even then, she had really just been warming up for the finale, “C Jam Blues,” the highlight of the evening. Dueling with each musician, she introduced them in song and imitated their styles and sound as they traded fours. Whether her interplay was with Al Grey’s rambunctious plunger mute, Stan Getz’s piercingly florid attack, the twists and turns of Harry Edison, the gruffness of “Lockjaw” Davis, whose exchange with the singer most audibly brought down the house, or the fierce incandescence of Roy Eldridge, Fitzgerald inspired some of the evening’s most memorable and humorous peaks.
The live 1972 recording of “C Jam Blues” is available on a YouTube video that lacks a visual element apart from the title. Take a listen and I guarantee (no money back if I’m wrong) it will elicit a smile or two of pleasure.