FITZGERALD, Ella: Ella And Company (1943-1951) (Naxos: 8.120765)
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ELLA FITZGERALD Vol.4
'Ella And Company' Original Recordings 1943-1951
Ella Fitzgerald's life story is well-known by jazzaficionados; how she won an amateur contest in1934 singing \Judy" and "The Object of MyAffection" and idolizing vocalist Connie Boswell;her early years as the girl singer with ChickWebb's orchestra; and her taking Webb's placeupon his untimely death in 1939. But this wasonly the first stage in a career that lasted over ahalf-century and saw the shy singer fromYonkers, New York become the most celebratedfemale vocalist in jazz history.
Ella is best known for her series of'Songbook' album tributes to Americansongwriting greats such as Cole Porter, Rodgers& Hart, and the Gershwin Brothers, all recordedunder the aegis of producer/impresario NormanGranz for Verve Records in the 1950s. However,it was the preceding decade that established Ellaas a premier interpreter of popular music, as wellas her most commercially successful years.
In July 1941, the draft and the coming ofWorld War II ended Ella's two-year stint asleader of the Webb orchestra. The jazz industrywas in a state of flux at the conclusion of thewar. The big bands, which had thrived during thewar, now found it difficult to stay together, duein part to increasing costs and changes in theAmerican societal landscape. As the bandsdissipated, their vocalists emerged as the nextsuccessful focus of the music industry. Somepop-leaning singers, like Dinah Shore and PerryComo, thrived in the decade following the end ofthe war. But jazz-oriented singers often foundnowhere to go; a few went along with the beboptrend, but many could not adapt to the new poporientedmilieu. This was where Ella Fitzgeraldshowed her tremendous versatility and stayingpower, proving that she could excel in thecommercial world as a solo performer.
Venturing forth as a solo artist, Ella wasbacked initially by the Webb band's rhythmsection. She made a few more records before theAmerican Federation of Musicians' recording banhalted recording featuring Union musicians.
Upon settling with the union in 1943, DeccaRecords was at first unsure what to do with thetalented young singer. With a penchant for crosspollinatingits contracted artists, Decca decidedto pair Ella with some of the label's otherpersonalities and vocal groups. Until the end ofher tenure with Decca in 1955, Ella Fitzgeraldalternated her solo performances with combinedefforts with Decca's stable of stars.
The Ink Spots was one of the most successfulof the all-male vocal quartets that got started inthe 1930s on the heels of the sensational MillsBrothers. At first, the group emulated the MillsBrothers' talent for imitating musicalinstruments, but eventually developed a style oftheir own, focusing on lead tenor Bill Kenny andbaritone Orville "Hoppy" Jones. At her firstsession after the end of the recording ban in1943, Ella and the Ink Spots recorded Cow CowBoogie, which had been a pre-ban hit for FreddieSlack and Ella Mae Morse. Fitzgerald's birdlikevoice contrasted nicely with Hoppy Jones' spokenchorus ("that cat was raised on loco weed!").
The result sold well enough that Decca spentmuch of the next decade teaming Ella with itstop vocal groups as well as colourful jazzpersonalities such as Louis Armstrong and LouisJordan; most of the sessions helmed by Deccaproducer Milt Gabler.
In comparison with the Ink Spots, the SongSpinners was a relatively colorless yet competentvocal group that got a career boost due to theabsence of musicians in the recording studiosduring the AFM ban. In 1943 they becamefrequent accompanists for vocalist Dick Haymes.
The following year, they backed Ella in herrecording of Stan Kenton's And Her TearsFlowed Like Wine. Five years later, Gabler tookadvantage of another recording ban by teamingElla and the Song Spinners in an unaccompaniedcover version of Jon and Sandra Steele's MyHappiness. The group's ethereal backing ofElla's lead in the first verse is one of their bestmoments on record.
Although the Delta Rhythm Boys had no hitsongs of their own, the gospel-styled vocalquartet accompanied Ella Fitzgerald on severaloccasions in the mid-1940s. Patterned after theMills Brothers, the group, consisting of LeeGaines, Carl Jones, Kelsey Pharr, and TraverseCrawford bridged the gap between the MillsBrothers and doo-wop vocal groups of the1950s. Their recording with Ella of (I Love You)For Sentimental Reasons was one of sevenversions that charted during 1946 and 1947.
We have included one performance teamingElla Fitzgerald with the Mills Brothers: the lovelyballad I Gotta Have My Baby Back, which waswritten by country honky-tonk singer/songwriterFloyd Tillman.
Of all the solo performers Ella teamed withduring this period, Louis Armstrong provided themost creative spark. We've included eight sidesfeaturing Ella and Satchmo, most of themballads, among them the wistful Dream a LittleDream of Me (a revival of Wayne King's 1931hit), The Frim Fram Sauce (Nat 'King' Cole'sexercise in culinary double-talk) and Oops!, thelatter one of Johnny Mercer's lesser-known lyrics.
The highlights of these exquisite duets comewhen Louis sings and Ella chimes in with hermelodic wordless fills. Although Ella and Louisare more restrained than they would be on theirlater jazzier duets for Verve, the Decca sidesreadily exhibit the charm and chemistry of thesetwo jazz vocal immortals.
Ella's teaming with R&B pioneer Louis Jordanhad a more personally charged chemistry sincethe two not only worked together while in ChickWebb's band (1936-38), but were alsoromantically involved for a brief period. Theirduets were jivey and hip, especially on Ain'tNobody's Business But My Own from 1950,which came hot on the heels of Tennessee ErnieFord and Kay Starr's countrified rendition (bothrecordings backed with "I'll Never be Free"). Asurprise hit for Ella and Jordan was the comiccalypso romp Stone Cold Dead in the Market,(written as "He Had it Coming" by TrinidadianWilmoth Houdini) in which Jordan plays the roleof music's only singing corpse.
During her final years with Decca, EllaFitzgerald searched for her place in the musicindustry, just as they were searching for a placeto put her. Commercially, her joint efforts withDecca's stable of pop/jazz acts did well. But inthe meantime, thanks in part to her marriage tojazz bassist Ray Brown, she had met NormanGranz and began touring regularly with Granz'all-star jazz concert series, Jazz at thePhilharmonic. In late 1955, Granz wrested heraway from Decca and began producing heracclaimed 'Songbook' series of LPs, beginningher long and fruitful association with Granz'Verve label. But it was the period in between thisand her formative years with Chick Webb inwhich Ella Fitzgerald established herself as notonly a survivor of the Big Band Era, but onewhose development helped elevate her to theesteemed status as 'The First Lady of Song'.
Cary Ginell (a winner of the 2004 ASCAP/DeemsTaylor Award for music journalism)"