IT WOULD be hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the First Lady of Jazz.

The combined talents of the musicians led by conductor Barry Forgie and the voice of local jazz diva, Claire Martin, paid heartfelt homage to a great artist from the classic Swing era.

Forgie set the scene by talking of the big bands that influenced Fitzgerald in her young years and by the band illustrating their sounds. It was at local talent competitions she discovered that singing not dancing was her forte.

It was not long before she was taken up as vocalist for the Chick Webb Orchestra, the first of many big bands she worked with – Basie, Ellington, Buddy Rich, and Louis Armstrong with whom she had a long working friendship. She also moved easily into the world of Bebop singing alongside Dizzy Gillespie.

The 18 strong band provided a glorious full powered sound as they let rip with One O’clock Jump, Sweet Georgia Brown, a frenzied Flying Home with superb vibraphone rifts and the pulsating Sing, Sing, Sing. Nearly all the musicians were featured soloists. Claire Martin’s choice of songs from the many Great American songbooks that Fitzgerald recorded was like a distillation of nectar.

She started with Ella’s signature song A Tisket, A Tasket and moved easily through I’m Old Fashioned and delivering an exquisitely gentle Our Love is Here to Stay. Martin has a unique style which she brought to these classics. Adapting them she captured the essence of Fitzgerald and in no way tried to impersonate her.

Her beautiful rendition of Every Time We Say Goodbye was contrasted with the fun she had belting out Hard Hearted Hannah. There was superb fusion between singer and band with the music never overpowering the lyrics.