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Ella Fitzgerald: Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Ella Fitzgerald Set

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Ella was a little late to the party. When impresario Norman Granz launched what would become his landmark series of Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts and tours in 1944, his all-star lineups included other vocalists, Billie Holiday among them. When he finally tapped Ella for JATP duty in 1949, she was under exclusive contract to Decca Records. So fans could see her onstage with equally seminal figures like Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich, Lester Young and Ray Brown, but any JATP recordings of her remained shelved for years. Most have since surfaced on full-concert discs, and there have been previous Ella-only compilations, but none as rich, or as beautifully remastered, as this 22-track set spanning four dates between 1949 and ’54-two years before the debut of Granz’s Verve label, with Ella as its centerpiece.

Ella is in spectacular form. Her Decca recordings, though consistently good (if often over-stylized), never fully captured her instinctive jazz smarts. And while her Verve albums are unfailingly sterling, they’re also elegantly bespoke. The JATP tracks capture the true Ella: vibrant, saucy, inventive and gloriously unfettered. Whether boppin’ across “Robbins Nest,” scatting through a seismic “Flying Home,” shaping a spot-on impression of Louis Armstrong on “Basin Street Blues,” navigating the soul-deep ache of “The Man That Got Away” or reimagining “Hernando’s Hideaway” as a salute to jazz giants (Granz among them), this is the apex of Ella’s artistry.

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