Though her career stretched from the '30s to the '80s and she's widely considered possibly the greatest female jazz singer or all time, Ella Fitzgerald will probably forever be best known for a mid-'50s collection of albums collectively called the Songbooks, where she devoted entire albums to the works of such composers as Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, and Duke Ellington. THE BEST OF THE SONGBOOKS: THE BALLADS is one of the many compilations based on these recordings, and one of the best. From its beautiful, informative packaging to its gorgeously remastered sound, this 16-track, 64-minute collection treats the material with the respect it deserves. The material, of course, is first-rate, wall-to-wall standards from Johnny Mercer's wistful "Laura" to Ellington's sly "Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me." Fitzgerald's performances are equally outstanding, as are the mostly big-band arrangements. This is as good as jazz ballad collections get.
An appearance in Hollywood for a first-rate jazz vocalist was not necessarily an opportunity to broadcast your visage and pander to everyone from Tacoma to Tallahassee. It could also include a date at the Crescendo, the Sunset Strip's best chance to find premier jazz. Gene Norman's nightclub hosted dozens of jazz legends (and a comic or two), and produced more than its share of excellent LPs recorded on location. Better even than Mel Tormé's 1954 classic, the Ella Fitzgerald LP that resulted from her May 1961 appearances generated one of the best (and certainly most underrated) live records in her discography – and almost 50 years later, it became a four-CD set compiling ten days' worth of performances.
Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 - June 15, 1996) was an American jazz vocalist with a vocal range spanning three octaves. Often referred to as the "First Lady of Song" and the "Queen of Jazz," she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing. Fitzgerald was a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over the course of her 60-year recording career, she sold 40 million copies of her 70-plus albums, won 14 Grammy Awards and received during her career many other major awards and honors.
This release comes in a cardboard box which houses a 4-panel Digisleeve and a 66-page booklet. Ella Fitzgerald's outstanding songbook series has become an institution unto itself. This 1957 effort is distinguished from Fitzgerald's other songbooks in that it is the only album in which the composer whose work she is singing actively participates. In fact, these recordings are packed with some of the key figures in 20th century jazz. As if Ella and Duke weren't enough, Ellington's arranger/composer Billy Strayhorn, guest musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson, and brilliant record producer Norman Granz all have a hand in the proceedings.
This two-CD set (a reissue of an earlier two-LP set plus six previously unreleased numbers) brings back a memorable Carnegie Hall concert that both features and pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. The great singer is joined on a few numbers by a Chick Webb reunion band that has a few of the original members (plus an uncredited Panama Francis on drums). Although the musicians do not get much solo space (why wasn't trumpeter Taft Jordan featured?), the music is pleasing. Fitzgerald performs three exquisite duets with pianist Ellis Larkins and then sits out while the Jazz at the Philharmonic All-Stars romp on a few jams and a ballad medley. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge's emotional flights take honors, although tenorman Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and trombonist Al Grey are also in good form. Fitzgerald comes out for the second half of the show and sings 14 numbers with guitarist Joe Pass (including a pair of tender duets) and the Tommy Flanagan trio.
Producer Norman Granz oversaw two Porgy & Bess projects. The first involved Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and came together during the autumn of 1957 with brassy big band and lush orchestral arrangements by Russ Garcia. This is the classic Verve Porgy & Bess, and it's been reissued many, many times. The second, recorded during the spring and summer of 1976 and issued by RCA, brought Ray Charles together with versatile British vocalist Cleo Laine, backed by an orchestra under the direction of Frank DeVol. A comparison of these two realizations bears fascinating fruit, particularly when the medleys of street vendors are played back to back…