[Dixielandjazz] Ella Fitzgerald - Undiscovered Verve Recordings Now Released.
Stephen G Barbone
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Nov 29 07:22:59 PST 2009
If you are an Ella fan, you might like to get these CDs. These
previously unissued 76 songs are from her club dates at the Crescendo
in Los Angeles, in 1961 and 1962. "Twelve Nights in Hollywood" may
well be the best compilation of Ella singing live in a jazz club
setting according to the reviewer and other talking heads.
November 29, 2009 - NY TIMES - By Fred Kaplan
Intimate Ella Fitzgerald, Rediscovered
By FRED KAPLAN
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
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
Richard Seidel, the producer of the boxed set, first heard the tapes
early this year. He was driving to Massachusetts from his home in New
Jersey and brought along some rough CD transfers to play in the car.
“I was feeling kind of down that day,” he recalled, “and the more I
listened, I could not help but start to smile. I’ve worked on dozens
of Ella projects over the years, but there was something different
about this one — the sheer rhythmic joy she projects, the endlessly
There’s nothing rare about a joyous Ella Fitzgerald recording; the
woman exuded joy in nearly every note she sang. Yet the level on these
sessions soared higher and plumbed deeper.
Gary Giddins, the veteran critic and author of “Jazz,” agrees. “This
ranks on the top shelf of her live recordings,” he said. “It’s about
as good as it gets.”
Why these tapes stayed locked in the vault for nearly half a century —
and what it took to set them free — is a tale of a producer’s neglect,
a jazz sleuth’s obsession and a string of happy coincidences.
The 1961 Crescendo gig, which took place from May 11 to 21 (with one
night off), was booked as an afterthought to begin with, a time filler
between a European tour that Fitzgerald and her quartet had begun in
February and a monthlong stay at the Basin Street East in New York
Granz took the unusual step of taping every set. But in the next year
alone he and Fitzgerald recorded six studio albums, most of them with
large orchestras, including two of her eight heavily promoted songbook
albums, each devoted to standards by a prominent American composer.
In this context it’s not so surprising that the Crescendo tapes
received short shrift. “My guess,” Mr. Seidel said in a phone
interview, “would be that Norman Granz was just recording Ella so much
at the time, and was probably focused much more on her big studio
Granz did pull 12 tracks from the roughly 14 hours of material
recorded at the Crescendo and released them that year as an LP called
“Ella in Hollywood.” But the album didn’t do well, perhaps because it
sounded so strange. In between the songs, for reasons now unknown,
someone spliced in loud applause that had been recorded in a large
concert hall, making the whole album seem artificial. (The Crescendo
was a nightclub of 200 seats.)
Whatever the reasons for the flat reviews and scant sales, the
executives of Verve — which Granz had sold to MGM in 1960 — put the
Crescendo tapes in the vault, where they were forgotten for the next
Then, in 1988, Phil Schaap, a dogged jazz scholar well known for
excavating long-lost treasures from studio archives, was contracted by
PolyGram (which had recently bought Verve) to compile a discography of
all the recordings — issued and unissued — that Fitzgerald ever made
for the label.
Early on in the task, riffling through PolyGram’s vast tape facility,
then in Edison, N.J., Mr. Schaap unearthed the never-released tapes of
a 40th-birthday concert that Fitzgerald recorded at the Teatro Sistina
in Rome on April 25, 1958. He urged PolyGram’s executives to release
them. When they did, as an album called “Ella in Rome,” on the
concert’s 30th anniversary, it soared to No. 1 on Billboard’s jazz
chart. Stephen Holden, in The New York Times, hailed it as “a treasure
for the ages.”
It was soon after this triumph that Mr. Schaap came across the tapes
from the Crescendo Club — not just the tracks that Granz had picked
for “Ella in Hollywood,” which was long out of print, but the other
reels, which nobody had unspooled for nearly three decades.
Mr. Schaap listened to all of them and thought that here was another
trove of hidden jewels.
But by this time Verve was busy producing CD reissues of Fitzgerald
hits. There was no appetite for sifting through what appeared to be
the rejects of an old flop.
And there things stood until late last year, when Mr. Seidel was re-
reading a biography of Fitzgerald by Stuart Nicholson. In the back of
the book was an expanded version of Mr. Schaap’s discography — 61
pages long — as commissioned by the author.
Mr. Seidel had been the head of Verve from 1982 to 2002, signing
nearly all its jazz artists and producing most of their albums. In
2006 the label, which was now owned by Universal Music, rehired him to
produce reissues. The year marked the 50th anniversary of Verve’s
founding — and of some of Ella Fitzgerald’s greatest Verve albums:
“Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl,” “Ella and Louis” with Louis Armstrong,
and her first two songbooks (devoted to Cole Porter and Rodgers and
Hart). There was a demand for lots of Fitzgerald projects, and Mr.
Seidel drew up a list of a dozen possibilities for the next three years.
One of the last of those projects, and potentially the most ambitious,
was the Crescendo Club sessions. Scanning Mr. Schaap’s discography, he
was struck by how much was put down on tape at that club — 10 nights’
worth, and another two nights during a repeat visit, which he’d never
known about, in June 1962.
Toward the end of 2008, in a meeting with Verve’s general manager,
Nate Herr, Mr. Seidel proposed at least taking a listen to those tapes
with an eye toward releasing them. He knew it was a long shot. But Mr.
Herr was game. He was about to inaugurate the Verve Select series,
multi-disc boxed sets of unreleased or out-of-print material. Maybe
those Crescendo tapes could get the series rolling.
A few months later the company’s engineers sent him some CD copies of
the tapes. And so Mr. Seidel set out on his fateful trip to
Massachusetts, listening as he drove, and he realized he simply had to
get the music out. “There was an intimacy and poignance about them,”
he recalled thinking about the tapes, “that seemed to be brought out
by the atmosphere of a small club.”
Remarkably, with the exception of “Ella in Hollywood” and “Live at Mr.
Kelly’s,” a 1958 Chicago date (which wasn’t released until 2007),
there are no Fitzgerald albums recorded live in a small club.
“Mr. Kelly’s,” another Schaap discovery, was an eyebrow raiser because
of its novelty, but it’s far inferior, musically and sonically, to the
Crescendo sets. The “Ella in Hollywood” album was tarnished not only
by the phony concert-hall applause but also by the fact — which this
new boxed set makes clear — that Granz did a poor job of picking which
tracks to put on the album.
Mr. Schaap has listened to hundreds of Granz recordings over the
decades, including the released master takes and the unreleased
alternate takes. Granz, he said, was “a great man of profound vision,”
but as a record producer, he “infrequently dwelled at length on what
takes should be issued.”
Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies and a
former good friend of Granz, agrees. “Norman was maybe the most lavish
record producer there ever was,” he said, but he was often
“unconcerned or careless” when it came to preparing and issuing the
albums. (Granz died in 2001.)
“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
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