Ella Fitzgerald- The Complete Songbooks

   Norman Granz, the genius behind Verve, and Ella Fitzgerald took on a fantastic challenge in 1956- the entire Great American Songbook. It was a project co-conceived with the birth of the Jazz label and in many ways a statement of it’s intent. The collaboration of these two titans results in what critics and music historians both deem the finest versions of the often recorded and consistently intriguing standards. Over the course of eight years, from ’56 until ’64, Granz and Fitzgerald would produce reel after reel of excellent material that is both glamorously understated and wildly passionate. For 30 years many collectors where frustrated to see these takes separated on bargain bin compilations and terribly mastered best-of CD’s when in 1994 Verve released the Complete Ella Fitzgerlad Songbooks, a 16 disc and 120 page liner note, Grammy Award winning comprehensive collection.

The standards are an overwhelming and moderately difficult area to get into, with composers collections, performers collections, many ‘definitive’ versions- some by the same artist at different points in their careers- there is a wide variety of material one could find themselves lost in for sometime. The truth is that the song, as the composer envisioned it, can only be heard between the lines, as it were, by comparing and dissecting the many available versions. This process also reveals quite a bit of the artist performing them as well. That’s where this anthology comes in, it functions as a perfect starting place to get familiar with the standards as they are presented in classic form, mostly complete with intros, verses, and choruses and remaining for the most part with-in the 32 bar form. It serves equally as well as a fantastic introduction into the powerful legacy Ella Fitzgerald left on American Popular Music.
All-in-all one of my favorite anthologies but for those seeking an undertaking a  little less exhaustive  check out the 1959 release of Ella tackling the ever prodigious Gershwin Song Book. Not only is the whole feel of the Great American Songbook captured in its essence by the music of George Gershwin (the daring musical complexity not sacrificing one moment of melody) the essence of some imaginary early 20th century America is wrapped up seamlessly in the sophisticated lyrics of Ira. Its hard to imagine how Ella Fitzgerald could have mustered up the confidence to add even more elegance and grace to the tunes, however with the tasteful arrangements of Norman Granz tip-toeing around her its hard to imagine how she couldn’t.

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