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Albums Of The Week: Ella Fitzgerald | Ella At The Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook

Some long-lost landmark recordings by the jazz icon finally make their public debut.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Ella At The Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook includes 15 never-before-released songs of Ella Fitzgerald performing selections of her now-classic album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Irving Berlin Songbook, to an adoring sold-out Los Angeles crowd in August of ’58. Conducted and arranged by Paul Weston, who also arranged and conducted the studio sessions, this concert marked the only time that Ella performed these iconic arrangements live with a full orchestra.

Discovered in the private collection of producer and Verve Records founder Norman Granz, this landmark record marks the first time a live Songbook has been released from Ella. It is also significant in that it captures the only time Ella worked in concert with arranger-conductor Weston. And although she performed regularly at the Hollywood Bowl, this is the first full-length concert by Ella from this iconic venue to be released (notably, Ella was featured prominently on Verve’s Jazz At The Hollywood Bowl album, recorded and released in 1956, the year Granz formed the label).

The live tracks were mixed from the original ¼” tapes by Grammy-winning producer and musician Gregg Field, who played drums for Ella in her later years. The album is rounded out with insightful liner notes about the concert and Ella’s Songbook series by noted author and music critic Will Friedwald.

Widely considered her greatest achievement, Ella’s Songbook records, with peerless renditions of the best songs by America’s greatest composers, are the cornerstone of the Verve catalog and the undisputed standard for jazz vocal recordings. At the inaugural Grammy Awards, her Irving Berlin album won Ella her first Grammy for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and was also nominated for Album Of The Year.

Aside from the lucky audience at the Hollywood Bowl that night, it wasn’t generally known, until the discovery of these tapes, that Ella had ever performed any of the Songbook arrangements in concert, let alone that such a pristine and sonically sumptuous recording existed.

While Ella’s live appearances had evolved over the years from her early big band years where she primarily sang in ballrooms with the Chick Webb Orchestra to supper clubs, theaters and concert halls, she mostly stuck to a nightclub format of performing a selection of songs accompanied by a trio. This performance at the Hollywood Bowl was incredibly unique for her. As Friedwald reveals in the liners, “But to come on stage — with a full orchestra — and essentially sing the contents of a studio album, well, nobody did that. Not Sinatra, not Tony Bennett, not Miles Davis, nor any of the other key innovators who contributed to the development of what came to be known as ‘the concept album.’ So exactly why did Fitzgerald and Granz choose to face this particular music and dance in this singular fashion? We may never know, but the logical answer is that the songbooks were proving to be such a major component to her burgeoning career that … Fitzgerald and Granz were determined to do something special in honor of the ongoing series.”

And special it was. Across 15 songs, Ella and the orchestra performed dazzling arrangements of some of Berlin’s best-known songs including the classic ballads How Deep Is The Ocean and Supper Time, Hollywood tunes You’re Laughing At Me and Get Thee Behind Me Satan,” and swinging up-tempo numbers Cheek To Cheek, Top Hat, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, Heat Wave and Puttin’ On The Ritz. The concert pops with an electricity not found on the studio recording as Ella feeds off the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, whose applause and adulation bookend each song.

The Hollywood Bowl, which is celebrating its centennial this year, loomed large in Ella’s life. She made her Bowl debut alongside Louis Armstrong in 1956 at a star-studded program, which was released as the double LP, Jazz At The Hollywood Bowl. Ella holds the rare distinction of having sold out the Bowl in each of five decades, from the 1950s through the 1990s. Aside from headlining numerous times, Ella, who lived in L.A. for much of her career, also performed as part of the annual Playboy Jazz Festival; her last appearance was a couple of years before her passing in 1996.

The voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the songs of Irving Berlin, the timeless arrangements of Paul Weston with a orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl: Ella At The Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook is the pinnacle of American song — live and like never before.”