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CD Review


Ella Fitzgerald - Love Letters From Ella
Concord Jazz
       Arguably the best female jazz singer of all time, Fitzgerald didn't earn the title "The First Lady of Song" for nothing. Not only was the sound of her voice one of the most beautiful and joyful sounds ever heard, but she had all of the gifts that made singers great: perfect tone, great phrasing, excellent diction, wide range, and the ability to make it all sound easy. In fact, sometimes so easy she got the reputation as being too "surfacy,"  and not getting all the true deep emotion out of a song. Gosh, she even made her slower material sound as if they were happy songs.
       That she could muster up any happiness in her soul from the midst of the poverty and homelessness from which she found herself at the beginning of her career is a testament to the strength of her dream and her huge reservoir of courage and belief in herself. After winning a talent contest at the Apollo, she soon had stints with the bands of Tiny Bradshaw and Chick Webb, with the latter being the first to employ her on record and not just live appearances. She had her first hit fronting Webb's band, the enduring classic "A Tisket, A Tasket", which was soon followed by another, "Undecided." While these were very popular and are remembered today as being definitve versions, her singing on these mostly novelty hits hadn't even started to scratch the surface of what she would accomplish later. After Webb died, Fitzgerald continued fronting the band until 1941, when she decided to split up the band and go solo. It was at this point she decided to stretch herself vocally and the true style of Fitzgerald was born. She started havfing hits on Decca and working with different bands and orchestras. While working with Dizzy Gillespie's band, she began to appreciate bop and started inserting exciting scat runs into her
performances. At this point, she started becoming a first-tier jazz singer and was being seen as such by her peers, her run of novelty hits having ended and her devotion to the American songbook becoming more evident. She signed to Verve and started recording many Songbooks of American composers, relying on the melody of the songs and not improvising too much, although she also recorded several very well-received jazz albums which allowed her to take more liberties with melodies and phrasing. Her Songbooks series, though, endeared her to the public and were treated as very prestigious accomplishments by the singer. Though the late '60's and early '70's found her trying to update her sound with ill-advised pop covers, she returned to jazz by the mid '70's and made a string of fine albums. She managed to keep singing right up until her death in 1996, though troubles with her heart, eyesight and vocal deterioration kept her from working at the pace she was previously accustomed.
       This album is a ten cut sampler featuring some of the best of Fitzgerald's work over the years. Of special interest and enjoyment will be the version of the song "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra. Fitzgerald sounds as good as she ever has and her reading is simply elegant and wonderful. If any one could be used to show someone what makes Fitzgerald great, this would be the song. And it's just one of the ten on this CD! vGreat stuff!
       Anyone who enjoys great jazz singing is going to like this CD. A singer with the talents of Fitzgerald only comes along once in a lifetime and, thankfully, her career has been well documented so everyone can experience how good a singer can be. With all the hoopla about American Idol and shows like that where music fans seem to put a lot of stock in how many syllables a singer can wring out of one word it's good to hear someone who didn't need any of that to tell a story when she sang. Sure, Fitzgerald could scat as well as anyonme, but she had the wisdom to know when it was neceassary and when it wasn.t Fitzgerald always used her gifts to sell the song, not herself. If only more singers would follow her lead. Oh well, until the tide changes, we have this and other albums by Fitzgerald to listen to. Pick some up now. You won't be sorry. - Scott Homewood



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