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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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At the Opera House

Essential Jazz Albums EJA 034  



1. It's All Right With Me
2. Don'cha Go 'way Mad
3. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
4. These Foolish Things
5. Ill Wind
6. Goody Goody
7. Moonlight in Vermont
8. Them There Eyes
9. Stompin' at the Savoy
10. It's All Right With Me
11. Don'cha Go 'way Mad
12. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
13. These Foolish Things
14. Ill Wind
15. Goody Goody
16. Moonlight in Vermont
17. Stompin' at the Savoy
18. Oh, Lady Be Good!
19. How High the Moon


Ella Fitzgerald - Vocals
Oscar Peterson - Piano
Herb Ellis - Guitar

Ray Brown - Bass
Jo Jones - Drums (tracks 1-16)
Connie Kay - Drums (tracks 17-18)

Tracks 9, 17-18 add:
Roy Eldridge - Trumpet
J. J. Johnson - Trombone
Sonny Stitt - Alto sax
Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, Flip Phillips - Tenor saxes

Track 19
Lou Levy - Piano
Herb Ellis - Guitar
Wilfred Middlebrooks - Bass
Gus Johnson - Drums


Here is more proof - if proof were needed - that Ella Fitzgerald was one of the supreme singers of the 20th century. In fact the title of this CD really only refers to the first nine tracks, which were recorded at Chicago Opera House in September 1957. Tracks 10 to 18 come from a concert the following month at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Both sets were originally released in stereo and mono versions entitled Ella Fitzgerald at the Opera House. This CD also contains a bonus track (How High the Moon) from the Playboy Jazz Festival in August 1959.

Ella sings radiantly on all 19 tracks, although buyers may baulk at the repetition, since the first nine songs are virtually identical with the next nine songs - the only difference being that Them There Eyes in the first concert is replaced by Oh, Lady Be Good! in the second. Yet this duplication has some benefits, such as being able to compare Ella's different performances of the same song. For example, her two versions of Stompin' at the Savoy start similarly, although the second is slightly slower, but when she goes into scatting, the two interpretations differ greatly. And the second performance is two minutes longer than the first.

Even if you don't want to make a detailed comparison of the performances, you can still sit back and enjoy Ella's superb vocal  tone and control - and her inspired improvising. Note, for instance, how she handles Them There Eyes, starting with two downward arpeggios, then holding back subtly with the lyrics to accentuate the swing, and adventuring up and down her range. Or savour her unaccompanied coda at the end of These Foolish Things. Or recognise the sensitivity with which she sings Ill Wind - a rendition that challenges Billie Holiday's classic version of the song.

The album ends with Oh, Lady Be Good!, which displays Ella's versatility and humour, and a mid-tempo How High the Moon which doubles in speed, proving that Ella's vocal stamina as well as  her ingenuity was unsurpassed.

The recording is sometimes rather fuzzy but the album captures Ella when she was often at her most daring: singing to a responsive audience.

Tony Augarde


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