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Ella Fitzgerald: Live at Chautauqua: Volume 1

James Doherty By

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Live at Chautauqua, Volume 1 (Dot Time Records) captures Ella Fitzgerald in concert in July 1968. Accompanied by the Tee Carson trio, the eclectic programme ranges from her 1938 breakthrough hit "A-Tisket A-Tasket" through to contemporary pop and Broadway tunes, taking in some selections from her famed songbook series along the way. As Ella explains on her introduction to "Sunny," her intention is "to do something for everyone." While her forays into contemporary pop would sometimes prove unwise, the blend of new tunes with tried and true standards on Live at Chautauqua is groovy, swinging and cohesive.

1968 was a transitional year for Ella. In May she fulfilled her obligations to Capitol Records by recording 30 by Ella, which, though certainly not her best album, was an improvement on the three mediocrities she had previously laid down for the label. None of her Capitol albums were significant commercial successes; producer Dave Dexter's plan to make her relevant to younger audiences had failed. But where Dexter's productions find the singer warbling her way through cloying country tunes and dreary spirituals, Ella gets with it in a far more satisfying and appropriate way on her tour with Carson, due in a large part to savvy song choices. Tony Bennett's "For Once in My Life," an obvious candidate for jazz interpretation, sounds like it was written for her: the marriage of a pretty melody with a vulnerable, innocent persona yearning for love and fulfillment recalls her earlier success with numbers like "Misty" and "Something to Live For." Another relatively new tune, "On a Clear Day" (from the 1965 Broadway production On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), is given a searing Latin jazz treatment and doesn't sound at all ephemeral despite basking in a slow and sensual late sixties groove. As if to insist on its atemporality and place it among the classics, Ella quite seamlessly interpolates lines from Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and the Gershwins' "A Foggy Day." Slinky and seductive, the ten-minute medley based around "Sunny" and "Goin' Out of My Head" demonstrates that the hit parade could still offer something to singers like Ella. Michel Legrand's "Watch What Happens" has a sleek bossa nova beat which suits the melody, though this performance isn't as impressive as the dazzling version that would appear on Ella's next album release, Sunshine of Your Love.

The standards on Live at Chautauqua include a cool "I'm Beginning to See the Light," which takes its cues from Quincy Jones' stellar arrangement of the number for Ella's 1963 meeting with Count Basie, Ella and Basie. The singer takes us for a hard swinging romp on "The Object of My Affection," while Cole Porter's "It's All Right with Me" is fast and urgent and threatens to swing out of orbit. She makes some exquisite note choices on "Midnight Sun," a stunning ballad that popped up in her concert repertoire from time to time after she first recorded it in 1957 for the album Like Someone in Love. A tense and restrained performance, singer and trio carefully pitch their intensity to get the level of tenderness just right.

No Ella concert would be complete without a scat set piece, and no Ella performance of the mid to late sixties could be without some Antonio Carlos Jobim. On Live at Chautauqua, she kills two birds with one stone by scatting up a storm on "One Note Samba." It's a spirited performance full of octave jumps, hisses, clicks, growls and snippets of some other tunes ("Blues in the Night," "If I Had a Talking Picture of You," and "Idaho," the last of which she had featured in her supreme scat performance of "How High the Moon" on the 1960 Mack the Knife—Ella in Berlin album).

The sound on Live at Chautauqua is unfortunately quite tinny and in places slightly distorted. Nevertheless, it is an interesting snapshot of the singer still at the height of her vocal powers and any new Ella is, of course, always welcome.

Track Listing: It's All Right With Me; I'm Beginning to See the Light; Blue Skies/On a Clear Day; For Once in My Life; The Object of My Affection; Sunny/Goin' Out of My Head; Watch What Happens; Midnight Sun; A-Tisket A-Tasket; The Lady Is a Tramp; One Note Samba.

Personnel: Tee Carson: piano; Keter Betts: bass; Joe Harris: drums.

Title: Live at Chautauqua: Volume 1 | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Dot Time Records

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