Ella Fitzgerald Centennial Celebration: Vermont Jazz Center Big Band with Wanda Houston

Friday, June 16 2017 8:00 PM

Wanda Houston

The Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend celebrates Ella Fitzgerald’s centennial birthday with a concert of arrangements she performed with Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others. Leading the way is the Vermont Jazz Center Big Band, a 16-piece ensemble of area professionals, directed by Rob Freeberg. Acclaimed vocalist Wanda Houston will front the band for this tour-de-force of the great American songbook.

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century…and perhaps the first jazz artist to become a household name. One of today’s outstanding interpreters of vocal jazz and blues, Wanda Houston has loved and sung along with Fitzgerald’s music since she was a young girl. Originally from Chicago, Wanda grew up singing gospel music in church and with her family’s theater group.  She has led an active career as an actress performing on the grand stages of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Broadway. Like Fitzgerald, she is a great singer as well as a superb storyteller; she colors the spaces between her songs with fascinating stories of her youth and the trials and tribulations of life on the road.

The Vermont Jazz Center Big Band is a professional community band that comes together under the auspices of the VJC to rehearse and take on projects. The band is directed by trumpeter Rob Freeberg and features many top-flight ensemble players and soloists. Freeberg was Director of Bands at New Rochelle High School; he also led his own professional big band and a community big band in Westchester County. He has conducted high school performances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

In this opening event of the 6th annual Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend, Wanda Houston and the VJC Big Band will be performing and breathing new life into the same musical arrangements used by Ella Fitzgerald.