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Extended Analysis

Ella Fitzgerald: Twelve Nights in Hollywood

By Published: January 17, 2010
Ella Fitzgerald
Twelve Nights in Hollywood
Verve Music Group

Ella Fitzgerald needs no introduction to most jazz fans because the "First Lady of Swing" had a remarkably productive recording and performing career that spanned from the mid '30s until around 1990, when multiple health problems forced her into retirement. Ella was 44 in 1961, recording several albums a year for Verve and managed by impresario Norman Granz, who was very interested in seeing that the singer earned a hefty income from concert bookings and record royalties.

This four-CD set consists of live performances made at the Crescendo over 10 nights in 1961, plus a two-day return to the club the following year, during which Granz arranged to record every set. This vast volume of tape produced only one LP, Ella in Hollywood; while some of the songs within it are repeated, none of the issued performances are included in this boxed set. 74 previously unheard selections are the set's bounty. It is peculiar that this relatively small venue had an unusually loud audience response on the earlier album; there is no such artificial applause added to this collection. Although Fitzgerald rarely was recorded in a club setting, she reacts to the intimacy of the venue by connecting with her audience as if she is performing for a small group of close friends. The listener feels like they are at a front-and-center table, taking in Fitzgerald's effortless swing and energy, with her matchless scatting plus lots of fun ad-libs and song quotes, along with recognizing friends and fellow celebrities in the audience.

The energetic interpretation of "Lover, Come Back to Me" signals that Fitzgerald is on fire from the opening of the show. Her slowly savored take of "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" interpolates both "Am I Blue" and "Blue and Sentimental" in a bluesy setting. Extended workouts of "Perdido," "Take the A Train" and "How High the Moon" feature her matchless scat singing, with the latter song including numerous interpolated song quotes (often messing with the lyrics such as "Sweat Gets in My Eyes") and her campy imitation of a bowed bass. She milks the childish humor in her long-popular hit "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" and swings through an engaging take of "Lullaby of Birdland." The breezy "Joe Williams Blues" is another obscurity in Fitzgerald's discography, as only one other version has ever been released; she never runs out of ideas in her seven-plus minute workout, detouring into "Alright, Okay, You Win," "Fever" and even "Georgia on My Mind" while also scatting up a storm.

Fitzgerald reprises her cheerful rendition of Steve Allen's "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" (though her studio version recorded earlier in the year remained unreleased until the expanded 1989 reissue of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie). When she recognizes Mack David in the audience, she decides to tackle an impromptu version of "Candy," which she claims not to know and jokes that "Those are the only records of mine that sell." She has trouble remembering the words and continues "The lyrics are not handy / I'm messing up your song" to the delight of the audience. The grand finale consists of Fitzgerald's hilarious series of vocalist impressions in "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home," which prompts a brief encore of the piece.

Pianist Lou Levy

Lou Levy
Lou Levy
1928 - 2001
, guitarist Herb Ellis
Herb Ellis
Herb Ellis
1921 - 2010
, bassist Wilfred Roland Middlebrooks
Wilfred Roland Middlebrooks
Wilfred Roland Middlebrooks
1933 - 2008
bass, acoustic
and drummer Gus Johnson
Gus Johnson
Gus Johnson
make up Fitzgerald's band on discs 1-3, while pianist Paul Smith and drummer Stan Levey join Middlebrooks on the final disc. The musicians primarily serve a supporting role, as Fitzgerald is the show, though their accompaniment is flawless throughout the collection.

The audio is generally excellent (minor miscues like a bumped microphone), with detailed notes and lots of photos in the package, though some fans may be disappointed with the open-top CD cardboard sleeves, which leave the discs exposed to dust and possible scratching.

Fitzgerald was always at her best performing live (and thus many of her finest albums are concert recordings). Fans of jazz, vocals and just excellent showmanship will enjoy this limited edition boxed set, which is clearly music for the ages.

Tracks: Introduction; Lover, Come Back To Me; Too Close For Comfort; Little White Lies; On The Sunny Side Of The Street; Ac-cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive; Baby, Won't You Please Come Home; I Found A New Baby; On A Slow Boat To China; My Heart Belongs To Daddy; Perdido; I've Got A Crush On You; But Not For Me; You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me; Across The Alley From The Alamo; I'm Glad There Is You; 'Round Midnight; Take The "A" Train; Mr. Paganini; Nice Work If You Can Get It; I Can't Get Started; Give Me The Simple Life; Caravan; One For My Baby; Lorelei; A-Tisket, A-Tasket; Witchcraft; Gone With The Wind; Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe; It's De-Lovely; The Lady Is A Tramp; That Old Black Magic; Lullaby Of Birdland; Ella Introduces The Band; Imagination; Blue Moon; Joe Williams' Blues; The Lady's In Love With You; Love Is Here To Stay; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Anything Goes; This Could Be The Start Of Something Big; Candy; Little Girl Blue; You're Driving Me Crazy; It's All Right With Me; Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don't Tease Me); 'S Wonderful; How High The Moon; Deep Purple; In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning; Mack The Knife; Exactly Like You; Rock It For Me; Stompin' At The Savoy; Love For Sale; St. Louis Blues; All Of Me; Hard Hearted Hannah; Broadway; My Kind Of Boy; It Had To Be You; C'est Magnifique; How Long Has This Been Going On; When Your Lover Has Gone; Taking A Chance On Love; Good Morning Heartache; Clap Hands! Here Comes Charlie!; Hallelujah I Love Him So; Angel Eyes; Ol' Man Mose; Teach Me Tonight; Medley: Too Darn Hot/Ella's Twist; Too Darn Hot; Bewitched; Bill Bailey; Bill Bailey Reprise.

Personnel: Ella Fitzgerald: vocals; Lou Levy: piano; Paul Smith: piano; Herb Ellis: electric guitar; Wilfred Middlebrooks: bass; Gus Johnson: drums; Stan Levey: drums.

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