September 2005

Ella Fitzberald
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Jerome Kern Song Book

Drawing comparisons among the eight entries in Ella Fitzgerald’s legendary Verve songbook series is like suggesting Cartier sells finer diamonds than Tiffany. Still, it’s hard not to recognize a heightened brightness and clarity in the three volumes arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle.

Fitzgerald and Riddle first teamed for 1959’s grand and glorious journey into Gershwin-land. By the time they reunited four years later for a spin through the Kern repertoire, the series was entering its twilight. Hence, this second-to-last entry was the first comprised of only a single disc, spanning a comparatively scant dozen tracks. (The following year’s series-concluding Mercer collection, again pairing Fitzgerald with Riddle, would also be kept to a single platter). Ah, but when Fitzgerald, at the absolute apex of her vocal powers, is solvin’ that swingin’ Riddle, it’s unsurpassed quality, not quantity, that matters. Listen to their vaguely sinister treatment of “All the Things You Are,” the sublimity of their deerskin-soft “I’m Old Fashioned” and the tender optimism of their intriguingly sanguine “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and know you’re in the presence of intertwined genius.

Tad Hershorn

Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, George Shearing and Oscar Peterson at the February 12, 1990, "Hearts for Ella" tribute concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

Originally published in September 2005

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