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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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ELLA FITZGERALD

The George & Ira Gershwin
Song Book

Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55500

 

 


CD1
1. Ambulatory Suite (Promenade/March Of The Swiss Soldiers/Fidgety Feet) (Instrumental)
2. The Preludes (Instrumental)
3. Sam And Delilah
4. But Not For Me
5. My One And Only
6. Let's Call The Whole Thing Off
7. (I've Got) Beginner's Luck
8. Oh, Lady Be Good
9. Nice Work If You Can Get It
10. Things Are Looking Up
11. Just Another Rhumba
12. How Long Has This Been Going On
13. 'S Wonderful
14. The Man I Love
15. That Certain Feeling
16. By Strauss
17. Someone To Watch Over Me
18. The Real American Song (Is A Rag)
19. Who Cares?
20. Looking For A Boy

CD2
1. They All Laughed
2. My Cousin In Milwaukee
3. Somebody From Somewhere
4. A Foggy Day
5. Clap Yo Hands
6. For You, For Me, For Evermore
7. Stiff Upper Lip
8. Boy Wanted
9. Strike Up The Band
10. Soon
11. I've Got A Crush On You
12. Bidin' My Time
13. Aren't You Kind Of Glad We Did
14. Of Thee I Sing
15. "The Half Of It, Dearie" Blues
16. I Was Doing All Right
17. He Loves And She Loves
18. Love Is Sweeping The Country
19. Treat Me Rough
20. Love Is Here To Stay
21. Slap That Bass
22. Isn't That A Pity?
23. Shall We Dance?
24. Love Walked In

CD3
1. You've Got What Gets Me
2. They Can't Take That Away From Me
3. Embraceable You
4. I Can't Be Bothered Now
5. Boy What Love Has Done To Me
6. Fascinating Rhythm
7. Funny Face
8. Lorelei
9. Oh, So Nice!
10. Let's Kiss And Make Up
11. I Got Rhythm
12. Somebody Loves Me
13. Cheerful Little Earful
14. But Not For Me (45 rpm Version)
15. Lorelei (Different Version)
16. Someone To Watch Over Me
17. My One And Only
18. But Not For Me
19. Looking For A Boy
20. I've Got A Crush On You
21. How Long Has This Been Going On?
22. Maybe
23. Soon
24. Nice Work If You Can Get It

 

Many people nowadays talk about "The Great American Song Book", referring to the songs written by such composers as Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, Berlin and Porter. Yet the phrase didn't seem to come into widespread use until Ella Fitzgerald recorded her series of "Song Book" albums between 1956 and 1964. In other words, Ella established a whole genre which, up until then, we had hardly recognised. But it was true that there was a golden age of songwriting in the first half of the 20th century, much of which was created by emigrés into America.

The idea for the Fitzgerald Song Books came from promoter Norman Granz, who had signed up Ella and realised that she was a great interpreter of popular song who was virtually born to make such a series of albums. She seemed particularly suited to performing the songs of George & Ira Gershwin. Indeed, she had earlier recorded an album of Gershwin songs with pianist Ellis Larkins, which showed what a superb interpreter she was of Gershwin songs. (Blessedly, these duets are added as bonus tracks at the end of this set.) As lyricist Ira Gershwin said: "I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them". All the Song Books were hugely successful, but Ella seems especially suited to the output of the Gershwin brothers, who were masterly creators of music which conveyed tenderness and emotion.

So it is good to have the complete recordings on this three-CD set, comprising the five original LPs released in 1959. Many British audiences became aware of the set when But Not For Me became a hit twice that same year. This song is a good example of the strengths of the Gershwins and Ella. Ira's lyrics for But Not For Me are poignant but affectionate, while Ella sings them with caring emotion and a hint of optimism. Alec Wilder called the tune "a masterpiece of control and understatement", with "a range of only one note over an octave". Sadly, Ella doesn't sing the verse, in which Ira rhymes "try it" with "riot"! (Rod Stewart does sing the verse on his album coincidentally called "The Great American Songbook".)

Ella actually sings the seldom-heard verses for many of the songs, such as They All Laughed, which ends "Oh, I wasn't a bit concerned For from history I had learned How many, many times the worm has turned". The verse for Boy Wanted rhymes "advertisement" with "flirt is meant". Ira's lyrics were often witty and sophisticated, and they were matched with George's melodies, which frequently evinced his love of jazz.

This jazz sensibility certainly suited Ella Fitzgerald and enabled her to sense a fellow-feeling with the Gershwins. Even if she was not necessarily as sophisticated as Ira, she delivered his lyrics clearly and sympathetically. What Nelson Riddle called her "almost childlike nature" actually provides a telling contrast to Ira's literate lyrics. The result is a continual stream of marvellous renditions of some of the finest songs ever written. In fact the collection begins with two instrumental tracks, which immediately exemplify George's talent for composing memorable melodies. And there follows a string of gorgeous songs, such as My One and Only, Things Are Looking Up, The Man I Love, Someone To Watch Over Me and Who Cares? Those are just some of the items from the first CD.

Ella was primarily a jazz singer, and this comes through again and again in her interpretation of the songs. For example, in the reprise of But Not For Me, her voice rises and falls on the word "get" and she takes gentle liberties with the line "Hi-ho, alack and also lack-a-day". Ella is well-known for her up-tempo readings of Oh, Lady be Good but here she takes it as a slow ballad full of plaintive but good-humoured pleading.

All the orchestral arrangements were by Nelson Riddle and they are well enough judged that they seldom intrude on Ella's vocals. I generally prefer Ella singing with a small jazz group - or even as a duettist with someone like Ellis Larkins or Joe Pass. But Nelson's arrangements have a delightful subtlety and rightness about them. Tracks like Who Cares? and I Got Rhythm (the only track where Ella scat-sings) proves that Riddle can swing as well as providing lush backings for songs like For You, For Me, For Evermore and Embraceable You and puckish arrangements for the likes of Strike Up The Band and "The Half Of It, Dearie" Blues.

Some of my favourite numbers are lesser-known songs, like That Certain Feeling (an easy bounce in Ella's hands), By Strauss (a wondrously mock-Viennese pastiche), Of Thee I Sing (a very strangely structured song), and Treat Me Rough ("Don't you dare to handle me with care").

But this collection of three CDs offers never-ceasing pleasure, supplied by one of the greatest singers ever born, accompanied by an extremely skilful orchestrator leading an orchestra of fine musicians. And the last nine duet tracks are undoubted classics of a singer and pianist in perfect, blissful harmony.

Tony Augarde

www.augardebooks.co.uk



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