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Manchester Craftsmen's Guild's jazz concert aims for the soul of Ella

Singer Kim Nazarian admits it is "daunting" to be involved in any musical project that invokes the name or memory of Ella Fitzgerald, one of the best vocalists ever in jazz.

But she is excited about the prospect of doing it this weekend in the North Side.

"It is just great to present music that once was Ella's and now is the material that is playing a role with all of us," says one of the stars of the New York Voices quartet and a McCandless resident.

Nazarian will be the vocal star of "A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald," which also will feature the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, led by jazz educator David Baker from the University of Indiana in Bloomington.

Ken Kimery, executive producer of the Masterworks orchestra, says the effort is a cooperative venture between Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, the Smithsonian and the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, which is a funder of the project.

"It is a look at the depth of her repertoire and the variety of the material, which was vast," he says.

One of the strongest aspects of the show is that many of the arrangements are transcriptions of recordings from the Smithsonian or from arrangements that are now part of the Smithsonian's American History Museum.

But the show will take other musical directions as well.

• It also will feature new arrangements by Mike Tomaro, head of jazz studies at Duquesne University, one of which will be a new look at the "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."

• Nazarian and the band, which will include saxophonist Darmon Meader from the New York Voices, also will do the group's version of "Lady Be Good."

•Trumpeter Sean Jones, the national recording star who teaches at Duquesne, will get a vocal spot with Nazarian on "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

Kimery says he and Marty Ashby, executive producer of the Guild's MCG Jazz, came up with the idea of the tribute when pondering the possibility of doing a show using some of the Smithsonian's musical-historical material. Between material in the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress, a rich amount was available for a look at the singer (1917-96), who was a leading force in the vocal-improvisation style known as scat-singing.

Kimery says her work creates "moments of resonance" through performances with the Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras and with bassist Ray Brown, the Pittsburgh native to whom she was married for four years.

When they were putting the show together, Kimery says, they came up with the idea of using Nazarian as the singer because of her range and vocal power.

But he and she both say doing any sort of imitation of Fitzgerald is an action doomed to failure. Nazarian says she simply is trying to present great music and what the singer means to her.

"It is a great test but also quite an honor," she says.

Additional Information:

A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald

Featuring: Kim Nazarian and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $42.50

Where: Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, 1815 Metropolitan St., North Side

Details: 412-322-0800

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