FITZGERALD, Ella: Lullaby Of Birdland (1947-1954) (Naxos: 8.120774)
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ELLA FITZGERALD Vol.5
'Lullaby Of Birdland' Original Recordings 1947-1954
In this collection of songs, we find Ella Fitzgeraldstill exploring her own post-swing territory. Inanother Naxos compilation, Ella & Company(Naxos 8.120765), Ella exhibited her versatilityin combining her talents with artists rangingfrom the smooth sounds of the Mills Brothers tothe ebullient Louis Armstrong. On thisrecording, we witness Ella as she fronts a varietyof Decca studio orchestras singing everythingfrom blues to bebop.
In the post-swing, pre-rock Never-Never-Land of the late '40s and early '50s, croonersruled the best-selling records charts. The topten artists during this period included namessuch as Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatraand Dinah Shore, all of whom got their starts asbig band singers. Ella Fitzgerald was nodifferent, catapulting herself from her successsinging \Judy" in a 1934 amateur contest toscoring hits first for the Chick Webb orchestraand then, after Webb died, fronting the bandherself.
After the demise of the big bands, Ella wasfaced with a double-edged sword as to whichdirection to take her career. On the one handbeckoned a promising future as a commercialpop singer. Her birdlike lyrical voice was perfectfor the Tin Pan Alley standards such as I Hadn'tAnyone Till You and A Man Wrote A Song,both featuring the backing of the lush GordonJenkins orchestra and chorus.
On the other hand, Ella was equally drivenby her jazz chops, and even though she camefrom the conservative Big Band Era, seemedequally comfortable singing bebop, a style thatfits perfectly with her talent for scat singing.
The most obvious example of this is on WalterBishop's My Baby Likes To Be-Bop, featuringthe orchestra of Ella's then-husband and musicdirector, bassist Ray Brown. Three days afterthis was recorded, Ella, still in a scatting mood,recorded Sir Charles Thompson's Robbins Nestwith Illinois Jacquet's orchestra, adding inanother scat/bop chorus after singing Jacquet'slyrics. In the latter, Ella displays one of bebop'shallmarks: quoting a well-known song during herchorus, in this case, a snippet from"Humoresque". Blue Lou, recorded in 1953,also shows her superb bebop technique on asong that had been in Chick Webb's repertoiresince 1934.
Decca Records, Ella's label since she beganrecording with Chick Webb in 1936, was by nowa proven pop powerhouse, and was notinterested in Ella becoming a full-fledged jazzsinger. The previously cited excursions intobebop were the exceptions rather than the rule.
Decca preferred Ella to instead crank out noveltysongs (patterned after her first hit, "A-Tisket ATasket")and pop standards such as the HaroldArlen/Ted Koehler classic I've Got The World onA String. For many of these recordings, theyused proven arranger Sy Oliver (formerly withJimmie Lunceford's swing band) supplying theaccompaniment. Oliver was also on hand towork with Ella on her superb rendition ofGeorge Shearing's Lullaby Of Birdland (withlyrics by George David Weiss) complete withorgan by Bill Doggett. At the same session, Ellastrayed even further into R&B on Tiny Bradshawand Henry Glover's Later, which includes one ofher most virtuosic scat choruses.
Ella Fitzgerald's versatility had resulted in anunexpected hit: her calypso duet with jumpbandleader Louis Jordan on the WilmothHoudini tune, "Stone Cold Dead In De Market"in 1946. Four years later, Ella and Oliver joinedforces on another novelty calypso, Peas AndRice, a song which Decca A&R chief Milt Gablerhad purchased from one Mabel Pollard, of whomnothing is known (Decca receptionist? Aspiringsongwriter? Waitress at the corner soda shop?)Despite her series of pop ballads recordedfor Decca, Ella had started a second career as ajazz singer, beginning with her 1946 appearanceon Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tours.
During this time, she fell under the influence ofbebop pioneers Charlie Parker and DizzyGillespie, which resulted in her expanding herjazz sensibilities as a vocalist.
Of the songs on this recording, only two(Walkin' By The River and Melancholy Me)made even brief appearances on Billboard's 'JukeBox Charts', a fact that may explain why Deccaallowed Ella to sign with Granz' Verve label in1955. Granz had become Ella's manager in1953 and convinced her that she needed to takeher career in a different direction from theaimless meandering she had been doing withDecca since the end of World War II. Decca hadapparently run out of material for her to record,as evidenced by her bizarre Latin percussiondrivenrendering of My Bonnie Lies Over TheOcean, certainly the strangest version of thissong until it was topped by John Lennon's firstvocal with the Beatles eight years later.
By the mid-1950s, it was apparent that EllaFitzgerald was going nowhere with Decca andneeded a career change. Still, the recordingshere show her doing her best with a variety ofsongs, expanding her repertoire, and furtherdeveloping one of the most admired vocal stylesin popular music.Cary Ginell - a winner of the 2004 ASCAP/DeemsTaylor Award for music journalism