Ella Fitzgerald, Rediscovered Tapes of 12 Nights in Hollywood

“Twelve Nights in Hollywood” (Ella Fitzgerald)

Finally got my copy of the new Ella Fitzgerald boxed set, Twelve Nights in Hollywood. Awesome. Recorded over a two week stay at the Crescendo Club in Hollywood, 1961, with some additional material recorded in 1962 with a trio1

With all the multi-disc jazz boxes that have come out in recent years — the complete Miles Davis on Columbia, the complete Charlie Parker on Savoy, the complete Duke Ellington on RCA and so on — it’s hard to believe that any significant tapes by any major musician might still be languishing undiscovered in a record company’s archives.

Yet Verve has just released “Twelve Nights in Hollywood,” a four-CD boxed set of Ella Fitzgerald singing 76 songs at the Crescendo, a small jazz club in Los Angeles, in 1961 and ’62 — and none of it has ever been released until now.

These aren’t bootlegs; the CDs were mastered from the original tapes, which were produced by Norman Granz, Verve’s founder and Fitzgerald’s longtime manager.

They capture the singer in her peak years, and at top form: more relaxed, swinging and adventurous, across a wider span of rhythms and moods, than on the dozens of other albums that hit the bins in her lifetime.

[Click to continue reading Ella Fitzgerald, Rediscovered – ‘Twelve Nights in Hollywood’ – NYTimes.com]

I haven’t had a chance to listen to the whole thing yet (77 songs, over four hours of music), but what I’ve heard is just spectacular. Highly recommended for fans of the human voice. The band is good, swinging intimate small-combo jazz2, but the highlight is Ms. Fitzgerald’s emotive expressive voice and utter, relaxed joy.

“Twelve Nights in Hollywood” is not a complete document. (If it were, it would consist of more than a dozen CDs, not four.) But it does include what Mr. Seidel regards as the best version of nearly every song — 76 out of 83 — that Fitzgerald sang on those nights. Six of those 76 songs were also included on the “Ella in Hollywood” album. Because Verve was about to reissue it as well, Mr. Seidel, to avoid redundancy, picked different versions of those songs, which she’d sung on different nights from the ones that Granz selected. On five of those six songs, Mr. Seidel’s choices are clearly better — more spirited, more playful, more passionate, even bluesier.

The blues were never Fitzgerald’s strong point; her few stabs at singing them in the studio came off as lame because it was hard to believe she had the capacity to be sad. But on these recordings she sings several blues songs, most notably “St. Louis Blues,” and, while no one would mistake her for Billie Holiday, she takes them for a bumpy, saucy ride.

When she scats on these recordings, she goes higher, lower, faster, more syncopated, more harmonically complex than usual; it sounds like a really good bebop horn solo, not an affectation, as her scatting on studio albums sometimes does.

And when she sings a ballad, she takes the melody in more — and more inventive — directions while still making it at least as heartbreaking as she ever did in a studio or large concert hall.

Herman Leonard, the great photographer, once took a picture of Duke Ellington sitting at a front-row table in a small New York nightclub, beaming at Fitzgerald while she sang. More than any other album, “Twelve Nights in Hollywood” gives us an idea of what Ellington was smiling at.

photograph © Herman Leonard – Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington at the Downbeat Club

  1. Paul Smith – piano; Wilfred Middlebrooks – bass; Stan Levey – drums []
  2. Lou Levy- piano; Herb Ellis – guitar; Wilfred Middlebrooks -bass; Gus Johnson – drums []

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