407

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook

David Adler By

Sign in to view read count
It’s impossible to rank the records in Ella Fitzgerald’s songbook series, but the 1958 Irving Berlin collection is surely essential in any music library. This Verve reissue packages the two CDs beautifully and includes the original liner notes by Nat Hentoff, as well as a new essay by James Gavin. But more than any essay could, Ella captures the essence of Berlin’s contribution to American popular music, backed by Paul Weston’s marvelous orchestra. Some of the players include Harry "Sweets" Edison, Juan Tizol, Barney Kessel, and Ted Nash, uncle of the young saxophonist of Jazz Composers Collective and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra fame.

Berlin’s 1911 breakthrough hit, "Alexander’s Ragtime Band," gets a quasi-comic treatment. Fitzgerald exaggerates syllables, evoking the song’s inherent joyousness, and scats a call-and-response verse with a rich-sounding trombone section. Other ultra-popular titles include "Puttin’ on the Ritz," "How Deep Is the Ocean," and "Blue Skies," the last of which appears as a previously unreleased bonus track with a smoking scat break. (Ella also scats briefly on "The Song Is Ended" and "No Strings.") "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails" has one of Berlin’s most surprising bridges, both lyrically and melodically. In a series of tricky descending arpeggios, Ella flawlessly enunciates the following mouthful: "I’m steppin’ out my dear to breathe an atmosphere that simply reeks with class/ And I trust that you’ll excuse my dust when I step on the gas." On a more somber note, Berlin’s classic but lesser known "Supper Time" (originally sung by Ethel Waters) concerns a woman’s reaction to news of her husband’s lynching. Berlin’s willingness to tackle such an unpleasant subject complicates his image as a broker of patriotic sentiment, most obviously with the blockbuster "God Bless America."

Several of the songs on this reissue appeared as duets on Ella’s albums with Louis Armstrong, including "Cheek to Cheek," "Isn’t This a Lovely Day," "I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket," and "I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." The arrangements here are quite different, providing added insight into Fitzgerald’s interpretive abilities. In addition, Weston surprises the listener with a minimalistic approach on "Russian Lullaby" and "Reaching for the Moon." The former pairs viola and harp as a dramatic backdrop for Ella’s voice, and the latter does the same with viola and Barney Kessel’s beautiful, almost folk-like guitar.

In the end, Ella Fitzgerald’s talent speaks for itself, as does Berlin’s. The compatibility of these two American legends is unmistakable on this pristine-sounding reissue.


Track Listing:

Disc one: 1. Let

Personnel: Ella Fitzgerald, vocal, with Paul Weston

| Record Label: Verve Music Group | Style: Vocal


Shop

More Articles

Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Final Concert CD/LP/Track Review The Final Concert
by John Sharpe
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Desire & Freedom CD/LP/Track Review Desire & Freedom
by Glenn Astarita
Published: February 19, 2017
Read On Hollywood Boulevard CD/LP/Track Review On Hollywood Boulevard
by Budd Kopman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Motorman's Son CD/LP/Track Review The Motorman's Son
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 18, 2017
Read "Something Real" CD/LP/Track Review Something Real
by Doug Collette
Published: March 14, 2016
Read "Hera" CD/LP/Track Review Hera
by Glenn Astarita
Published: September 25, 2016
Read "The Day After" CD/LP/Track Review The Day After
by David A. Orthmann
Published: February 14, 2017
Read "Out On The Coast" CD/LP/Track Review Out On The Coast
by Joe Gatto
Published: January 17, 2017
Read "Shuffle Along" CD/LP/Track Review Shuffle Along
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: March 25, 2016
Read "Some Morning" CD/LP/Track Review Some Morning
by Dr. Judith Schlesinger
Published: March 2, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!