The First Lady of Song

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Verve
PERFORMER: Ella Fitzgerald
CATALOGUE NO: 517 898-2 (3 discs)

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Ella Fitzgerald’s prolific recorded output, has, over the years, created something of a critical ennui, which, it must be said, has harmed her career not a jot. At the peak of her powers during the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties when the tracks on this superb anthology were recorded, this plump, middle-aged lady had the power to make her audiences focus not on her, but on the songs she was singing.

She disappeared into their words and music so completely they transcended her matronly appearance, leaving just the purity of her voice. Its perpetually youthful timbre gave it a universalism that was timeless in its appeal. Less concerned with text, more with the inherent musical features of a song, Ella respected the composer’s and lyric writer’s intentions with honest simplicity and humanity. Although a child of the recording studio (she made her first recording in 1935), it was in front of a live audience that her creativity flourished, and this is where many of these previously unreleased performances score.

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Listen to her brilliant, highly creative scat singing on ‘Airmail Special’ or the impish delight in effortlessly negotiating the musical obstacle course of ‘(If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have To Swing It’. Musicians who have worked with her attest to her ability to swing at a level of intensity matched by only a handful of male instrumentalists in jazz. Although many of her studio performances revealed an arm’s-length emotionalism, in live performance she could be profound, as ‘Angel Eyes’ reveals. But essentially Ella represents joy; to paraphrase Robert Graves, Ella Fitzgerald is very good, despite all the people who say she’s very good. Stuart Nicholson