It's not an impersonation but an enactment of Ella. "I try to capture the strength of her voice, her vocal antics," says Payne. "And then the scatting is an art in itself. She was the utmost master of it."
In the tribute show, Payne tries to represent at least two sides of Ella: straightforward sincerity and playfulness. "In the songbook albums -- when she sings Gershwin's 'But Not for Me,' for example -- she keeps it straight, not off the edge too much," Payne says. "She was a purist. And yet she would turn around in a more relaxed setting, step away from the orchestra and swing -- she'd make a song her own, jazzier."
Payne says that on Ella's Cote d'Azur Concerts on Verve with Duke Ellington, "you can hear the guys cracking up and Ella giggling to herself."
In the first half of Saturday night's program, Dan Keberle will lead the SJO in a half-dozen tunes, a couple of which are associated with Ella: "Airmail Special" and "Willow Weep for Me."
Then Payne will enact how Ella sang tunes like "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" (which made the 21-year-old Fitzgerald a star in 1938); "You'll Have To Swing It (Mr. Paganini)" (from her early years on the Decca label); "Mack the Knife" (famous for Ella's 1960 Berlin performance, when she forgot the lyrics and then surprised even herself over how well she could improvise new ones); "The Lady Is a Tramp" ("social circles spin too fast for me"); "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" (from the Ellington songbook album); "Sweet Georgia Brown" (not the whistling Harlem Globetrotters version); and of course "How High the Moon" (the 1947 scat masterpiece, with "bippity-doo-wop" nonsense syllables vocalized in a kind of vocal-instrumental solo). Payne will round out her set with tunes like "You've Changed," "Spring Can Hang You Up the Most," "Miss Otis Regrets" and "The Best Is Yet To Come."
"Tribute to Ella" with Freda Payne and the Spokane Jazz Orchestra at the Bing on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 8 pm. $28-$32. Call 325-SEAT.