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



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ELLA FITZGERALD

Three Classic Albums Plus

Avid AMSC 1118

 

 

Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin

1. Gone With the Wind

2. Misty

3. The Lady is a Tramp

4. The Man I Love

5. Summertime

6. Too Darn Hot

7. Lorelei

8. Mack the Knife

9. How High the Moon

Ella Fitzgerald – Vocals

Paul Smith – Piano

Jim Hall – Guitar

Wilfred Middlebrooks – Bass

Gus Johnson - Drums

Let No Man Write My Epitaph

10. Black Coffee

11. Angel Eyes

12. I Cried for You

13. I Can't Give You Anything But Love

14. Then You've Never Been Blue

15. I Hadn't Anyone Till You

16. My Melancholy Baby

17. Misty

18. September Song

19. One for my Baby

20. Who's Sorry Now?

21. I'm Getting Sentimental Over You

22. Reach for Tomorrow

Ella Fitzgerald – Vocals

Paul Smith – Piano

Ella in Hollywood

1. This Could Be the Start of Something Big

2. I’ve Got the World on a String

3. You’re Driving me Crazy

4. Just in Time

5. It Might as Well Be Spring

6. Take the “A” Train

7. Stairway to the Stars

8. Mr Paganini

9. Satin Doll

10. Blue Moon

11. Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home

12. Air Mail Special

Ella Fitzgerald – Vocals

Lou Levy – Piano

Herb Ellis – Guitar

Wilfred Middlebrooks – Bass

Gus Johnson - Drums

Ella Swings Gently with Nelson

13. Sweet and Slow

14. Georgia on My Mind

15. I Can't Get Started

16. Street of Dreams

17. Imagination

18. The Very Thought of You

19. It’s a Blue World

20. Darn That Dream

21. He’s Funny That Way

22. I Wished on the Moon

Ella Fitzgerald – Vocals

Nelson Riddle – Conductor, arrangements

This double album comprises the best part of four LPs from 1960 and 1961. Two of them are live concert performances while the other two are studio albums with Hollywood connections.

The collection opens with the classic album Ella in Berlin. I have reviewed it before but it is worth asking again “Why is it a classic?” Because it captures Ella Fitzgerald’s ebullient personality and her exceptional ability to improvise. Throughout the LP, Ella giggles with pleasure and repeatedly thanks the audience at Berlin’s Deutschlandhallen, which has a capacity of 12,000. She is well supported by a quartet led by pianist Paul Smith, her long-time accompanist who seems to follow her telepathically.

Although every track is a delight – from the easy-going swing of Gone With the Wind to the ironical humour of the Gershwins’ Lorelei – Ella saves the best till last, with two tracks that, despite their differences, are both phenomenal. In her introduction to Mack the Knife, Ella admits “I don’t really remember all the words”, probably because she hadn’t tried singing it before. After a few successful choruses, her memory fails her and she starts singing “What’s the next chorus to this song now?” And she continues improvising lyrics with good-humoured invention, including an imitation of Louis Armstrong (who had a hit with the song the previous year). Notice the inexorable swing that the backing group provides and the way that Ella and her fellas cope comfortably with the rising pitch every chorus.

How High the Moon is equally remarkable in its own way. It starts off at mid-tempo but drummer Gus Johnson does a rousing drum break which shifts the song into double time. Ella makes up some new words and then goes into scat. She seems inexhaustible as she reels off one scat chorus after another and quotes several other tunes including her hit A-Tisket A-Tasket. She then goes unaccompanied, singing in operatic style and imitating a double bass played by someone like Slam Stewart. It may be a routine she had polished in previous performances but it’s still very impressive. It is a seven-minute tour de force, showing her remarkable range and inventiveness.

After that electrifying performance, the next LP marks a complete change of gear. Let No Man Write My Epitaph was a 1960 film in which Ella Fitzgerald appeared as a singing pianist. This LP revisited some of the songs from the film, plus other items which (according to the sleeve-note) “Ella chose for no better reason than that they were worthy tunes she wanted to record”. Most of the songs are ballads, and Ella is accompanied simply by Paul Smith, so this is a rather sparse album. Yet it exemplifies Fitzgerald’s ability to deliver slow tunes with clarity and feeling. She singsI Can’t Give You Anything But Love at an unusually slow tempo but it works perfectly, especially as it is preceded by the seldom-heard verse. Who’s Sorry Now? is also remarkably slow but still effective.

If Let No Man Write My Epitaph was a forgettable Hollywood production, Ella in Hollywood is (like Ella in Berlin) another lively concert performance, this time recorded at the Crescendo in Hollywood in 1961. The accompanying quartet contains the same bassist and drummer as the Berlin album but the pianist and guitarist (Lou Levy and Herb Ellis) are new. Once again, the album displays Ella’s good nature as well as her impeccable vocal technique. Her humour is shown in Blue Moon, an ironic take-off of the Marcels’ hit version of 1961, for which Ella even adopts a boogaloo rhythm and adds her own sceptical comments about “messing up such a pretty tune”. The hint of a rock beat doesn’t entirely suit Fitzgerald but it is also present in the first chorus of You’re Driving Me Crazy before Ella moves more into her comfort zone with up-tempo swing. The outstanding track is probably Take the ”A” Train: nearly nine minutes of Ella’s unflagging vocals.

Ella Swings Gently With Nelson also comes from 1961 and backs Ella’s voice with sophisticated arrangements by Nelson Riddle. Thankfully the backings don’t swamp the vocals, and Oliver Nelson knew how to mix jazz into lush arrangements. For example, there is a funky sax solo in Georgia on My Mind and I Can’t Get Started includes a high-flying Harry-James-style trumpet solo. The brass and saxes often join in with the string passages.

This compilation includes ten of the original 13 tracks from the Oliver Nelson album. And it is worth noting that some reissues of the Ella in Berlin album had a couple of extra tracks which are not included here. But don’t feel short-changed: this double CD is remarkable value considering the quality of the music and the excellent remastering.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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