Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas – Ella Fitzgerald – Universal Music Group

by | Dec 20, 2021 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Nothing goes better than Christmas and Ella.

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas – Verve Records MG VS-64042 (1960)/Universal Music Group (2021) Acoustic Sound Series 180-gram stereo vinyl, 34:01 ****1/2:

(Ella Fitzgerald – vocals; Frank DeVol – orchestra conductor; arranger)

What happens when you pair the most popular jazz singer in the world with the most popular holiday? The simple answer is Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas. Often referred to as the “First Lady Of Song” or the “Queen Of Jazz”, Ella Fitzgerald was renowned for her technical virtuosity and stylistic versatility. Her ability to interpret standards and improvise with “scat” contributed to unparalleled success in jazz and popular music. From her earliest career recognition with the Chick Webb Orchestra (most notably, the single “A-Tisket, A- Tasket”), Fitzgerald became the most successful jazz vocalist of all time. She earned 14 Grammys, and recorded for over 6 decades. She collaborated with icons like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, The Ink Spots and. Frank Sinatra. Her legacy continues to this day. 

Universal Music Group has released a 180-gram vinyl of Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas as part of the Acoustic Sound Series. Twelve tracks of beloved holiday classics are performed with an orchestra conducted by arranger Frank DeVol (Sarah Vaughan, Nat “King” Cole, Tony Bennett). Recorded over a three-day session in New York during the summer of 1960, it is warm, cheerful and displays the upbeat feeling of these Christmas standards. Side A gets off to a rousing start with a swing arrangement of “Jingle Bells”. A vocal chorus and concise instrumentals (including percussion) back up the singer effectively. The jaunty vibe (including backup singers) proceeds on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”. With a slight rhythmic pulse, Ella breezes through “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas”. Her uncanny phrasing and unwavering pitch are framed by DeVol’s bluesy charts. Fitzgerald is equally adroit at balladry. On “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”, she distills the coy reticence of the lyrics and lets her voice float over the orchestra with just the right touch of jazzy intonation. The command of her “vocal” instrument is compelling. “Sleigh Ride” transcends the holiday music genre as the singer interacts with the band. There is no other vocalist who intermingles pop and jazz with this level of dexterity. DeVol’s arrangements are impeccable. A gentle rhythm, vibes and mellow horns envelop the glowing inflection of her voice on a wonderful version of “The Christmas Song”.

Side B is a showcase for her enduring talent. “Good Morning Blues” is syncopated jazz with Fitzgerald’s bluesiest performance. It stands out from the rest of the album. Perhaps the greatest use of Fitzgerald’s sense of timing is “Let It Snow! Let It Snow Let It Snow”. Her innate ability to stay in the pocket and deliver improvisational moments is dazzling. The relaxed swing grooves abound on “Winter Wonderland”. Fitzgerald injects subtle, but catchy vocal flourishes that elevate the song. With finger-snapping aesthetics, she captures the innocence of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, but turns it into a special jazz statement with a reference to “Tom Dooley”. Occasionally, the arrangement slightly overshadows the performance (“Frosty The Snowman”), but her transformation of typical Yuletide material like “White Christmas” is organic and blends seamlessly with the orchestra. 

Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas is a great jazz album, and a great Christmas album. The re-mastered sound mix (Sterling Sound) is vibrant and this QRT pressing is top-notch. The eye-catching gatefold packaging makes this another valuable addition to the Acoustic Sound Series (Chad Kassem/reissue supervisor). 

Side A: Single Bells; Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town; Have Yourself A Merry Christmas; What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?; Sleigh Ride; The Christmas Song

Side B: Good Morning Blues; Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!; Winter Wonderland; Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer; Frosty The Snow Man; White Christmas. 

—Robbie Gerson

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Album Covert for Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas - Verve Records

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