Ella At The Hollywood Bowl – The Irving Berlin Songbook – Universal Music Group

by | Aug 2, 2022 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

A new vinyl of a jazz legend taking on another musical icon.

Ella At The Hollywood Bowl – The Irving Berlin Songbook – Verve Records (1958)/Universal Music Group B0035171-01 (2022), 42:45 ****1/2:

(Ella Fitzgerald – vocals; Paul Weston- arranger, conductor)

There are many jazz instrumentalists in the pantheon of jazz royalty…Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Art Tatum and Sonny Rollins to name a few. It would be impossible to select the most important one. There are fewer jazz vocalists. But it is conceivable that there is a consensus for the greatest. That person would be Ella Fitzgerald. After her stint with Chick Webb in the `1930’s, Fitzgerald continued to make an impact as a solo artist. When the bebop movement swept over jazz, she developed her trademark “scat” singing and left her contemporaries behind. Fitzgerald eventually became a crossover star in popular music, film and television. Amazingly, her career remained vibrant for nearly seven decades.

It is always a treat for music fans when there is a new album from the “Queen Of Jazz”. Verve Music and Universal Music Group has released a new vinyl of Ella At The Hollywood Bowl, newly mixed by producer Gregg Fields from the original tapes.
This album is the second performance by Fitzgerald on August 16, 1958 (the first being a tribute to Cole Porter). Both were arranged and conducted by Paul Weston. (Note: As was common in that day, there is no information available on the other musicians).

Irving Berlin may be synonymous with The Great American Songbook. Perhaps there is no singer better suited for this than Ella. Side A opens with a classic Fitzgerald medium-swing cover of “There Song Is Ended”. Ella uses her voice like an instrument and she takes a vocalese-infused solo. There is a slower tempo shift on the melancholy ballad (“You’re Laughing At Me”) that features lower-register vocals and strings. “How Deep Is The Ocean” is a jazz/pop standard, recorded by Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Diana Krall, Etta James and Frank Sinatra.

While Fitzgerald is primarily known as a swing vocalist, she is more than capable of distilling emotion surrounded by a lush arrangement. Things get spicier when the familiar strands of “Heat Wave” appear. Fitzgerald’s sense of timing. meticulous articulation and vocal flexibility shine here.Just as suddenly, “Supper Time” has a languid, bluesy feel. Again, this is a great match of songwriter and vocalist. When the band slides into the finger-snapping big sound of “Cheek To Cheek”, Ella is transcendent, expressing the joy and whimsy of romance. Her enthusiastic interaction with the musicians is palpable. In a four minute back-to-back performance, she masterfully translates deep moodiness (“Russian Lullaby”) and breezy optimism (“Top Hat, White Tie And Tails”) with equal affinity.

Side B kicks off with quintessential Fitzgerald artistry on “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”. Her breezy intonation and jubilant delivery is unparalleled. Berlin’s quirky (with a biblical reference) “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” is sung with a combination of slow-burning intensity and lilting nuance. Her upper-register voice is inspirational. Most of these tracks are around three minutes in length. But the “Queen Of Jazz” consistently demonstrates her adroit versatility on tunes like “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” and “Always”, reiterating her bona fide credentials on up tempo and balladry (with a subtle uptick of course). The set concludes with 3 dance swing numbers (“Puttin’ On The Ritz”, “Let Yourself Go” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”), This is her natural element, and she doesn’t disappoint. 

This re-mastered vinyl of Ella At The Hollywood Bowl is a great representation of the greatest singer in jazz history in front of a live audience. The mix is focused on her extraordinary voice and vocal delivery.  

Side A:
The Song Is Ended;
You’re Looking At Me;
How Deep Is The Ocean;
Heat Wave; Supper Time;
Cheek To Cheek;
Russian Lullaby;
Top Hat And White tails

Side B:
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm;
Get Thee Behind Me Satan;
Let’s Face The Music And Dance;
Puttin’ On The Ritz;
Let Yourself Go;
Alexander’s Ragtime Band 

—Robbie Gerson

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