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Pure Ella
Decca GRD-636

The Original Decca Recordings

The Classic Ella Sings Gershwin album and 12 more great standards with Ellis Larkins at the piano.

The Legendary Masters of Jazz on Decca: This compact disc is part of an ongoing series of reissues utilizing today’s most advanced audio technology to preserve and restore a significant segment of America’s musical heritage: the classic jazz performances originally recorded for the pioneering Decca record company and affiliated labels.

1. Someone to Watch Over Me
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

2. My One and Only 3:13
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

3. But Not For Me
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

4. Looking For a Boy 3:06
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

5. I’ve Got a Crush on You 3:13
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

6. How Long Has This Been Going On 3:13
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

7. Maybe
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

8. Soon 2:44
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

9. I’m Glad There Is You 3:06
Paul Madeira – Jimmy Dorsey (Morley Music Co./ASCAP)

10. What Is There To Say?
E.Y. Harburg – Vernon Duke

11. People Will Say We’re In Love 3:08
Oscar Hammerstein II – Richard Rodgers

12. Please Be Kind
Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin (Warner Bros. Inc./ASCAP)

13. Until The Real Thing Comes Along 3:03
Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin – L.E. Freeman – Mann Holiner – Alberta Nichols (Chappell & Co., Cahn Music Co./ASCAP)

14. Makin’ Whoopee
Gus Kahn – Walter Donaldson (Gilbert Keyes Music Co., Donald Publishing Co./ASCAP)

15. Imagination
Johnny Burke – Jimmy Van Heusen (Bourne Company, Dorsey Brothers Music/ASCAP)

16. Star Dust 3:58
Mitchell Parish – Hoagy Carmichael (Mills Music, Inc./ASCAP)

17. My Heart Belongs to Daddy 2:36
Cole Porter (Chappell & Co./ASCAP)

18. You Leave Me Breathless 3:02
Ralph Freed – Frederick Hollander (Famous Music Corp./ASCAP)

19. Baby, What Else Can I Do?
Walter Hirsch – Gerald Marks

20. Nice Work If You Can Get It 2:37
George and Ira Gershwin (WB Music Corp./ASCAP)

Originally Produced by Milt Gabler

Reissue Produced by Orrin Keepnews.
Executive Producers: Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen

Ella Fitzgerald’s love affair with the American popular standard may have blossomed with the Song Books, but its roots are in this collection. Drawn from her Decca LPs Ella Sings Gershwin (1950) and Songs in a Mellow Mood (1954), these recordings place the future First Lady of Song in appropriate company: the Gershwins and such other creative royalty as Vernon Dukes, Yip Harburg, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael. For this occasion she teamed with a most sensitive and elegant accompanist: pianist Ellis Larkins, whose feathery yet swinging touch is as instantly recognizable as the Fitzgerald voice. Paring the songs – and her artistry – down to the core, Fitzgerald proved that she could sing classic pop with as much understanding, technical finesse, and heart as she brought to “Mr. Paganini” or “How High The Moon.” The result was a justly fabled set of performances – the purest Ella on record.

These sides represented a departure for the singer, whose two decades at Decca focused mostly on swing tunes, bebop, and novelties. She had struck out on her own in 1941, following the break-up of the band she had fronted for two years after the death of her mentor and first employer, Chick Webb. But throughout her first years as a soloist, Fitzgerald had worn the somewhat limiting tag of musician’s singer. A few of her records made the charts – “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” and “I’m Making Believe” (both with the Ink Spots), “My Happiness,” “Stone Cold Dead in the Market,” “For Sentimental Reasons” – but in general, her appeal was too jazz-oriented for the masses. It seemed unimaginable that she would ever sell millions of records or fill a major hall. Even more remote was her dream of developing a broader repertoire. As she told critic Ralph J. Gleason: “What I want to do is to sing a song on stage as if you had asked me to sing it to you here now. Just the two of us. I want to get that personal feeling. You can still be jazzy and sing sweet songs. I want to give the audience a little bit of everything.”

Most black pop artists of the day found themselves in the same boat. The more sophisticated ones – Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Pearl Bailey – occasionally got to record the top Broadway and Movie songs, but that material usually went to the Bing Crosbys and the Dinah Shores. As for the esoteric show tunes of the past – the numbers treasured by an elite crowd of song lovers – these had been claimed by such rarified white café performers as Lee Wiley, George Byron, and Hildegarde, all of whom devoted entire albums to that music in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s.

A few listeners realized that Fitzgerald could do the same thing if given the chance. As jazz columnist George Frazier wrote: “Although there were at least a dozen singers who are more famous and prosperous than Ella Fitzgerald, none of the others achieves her flexibility. This may come as something of a shock to the partisans of Dinah Shore and Margaret Whiting, but it is nevertheless the truth, for neither of them, not withstanding their enormous and exceedingly renumerative popularity, possesses a fraction of the talent that becomes audible the moment Ella Fitzgerald begins to sing.”

Things started to change in the late ‘40s, thanks to the advent of the LP. With eight or more songs to a disc, record companies felt freer to experiment, instead of constantly trying to shoot for the Hit Parade. Fitzgerald’s very first LP granted her wish with an anthology of eight Gershwin favorites. She had the ideal co-star in Ellis Larkins, who since 1943 had led the house trio at the Blue Angel, Manhattan’s most prestigious cabaret. A master accompanist as well as players, Larkins honed his art behind the likes of Mildred Bailey, Anita Ellis, Sylvia Syms, and Helen Humes. He gave them a one-man rhythm section: his left hand maintained a beat as solid as any drummer’s; his right swung with delicacy and control. The Fitzgerald – Larkins duets brought together two artists who could hear around the same corners, anticipating each other’s subtlest shifts of mood.

The biggest revelation, however, was Fitzgerald’s interpretive skill, which had never been tapped so fully. She approached these songs with rare sensitivity, surprising those who knew here only as a scat-singing daredevil. The highlights include her exquisite But Not For Me, whose last sixteen bars rank among the most moving Fitzgerald on record. She recasts the words “it all began so well” as an airy, rising phrase, making them sound wistful, not heavyhearted. But when she reaches the last line – “and there’s not know…I guess he’s not for me” – her voice falls like a sigh, ending the song on a quiet note of loss. No wonder Ira Gershwin would later remark: “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella sing them.”

But jazz is hardly neglected here. Both she and Larkins could swing at any tempo, as they do in My One and Only and Maybe, a pair of once-jaunty tunes slowed to an easy pace. How Long Has This Been Going On?, a sultry tale of lust in bloom, doesn’t daunt Fitzgerald, whose handling of sophisticated lyrics has always been sold short. On every track, her joy at exploring Gershwin’s music is infectious; it’s clear how much care she took to make the songs sparkle.

The press rewarded her with some of the best notices of her career. Wrote Down Beat: “She’s singing straight to you, you’ll feel, certainly a rare quality nowadays. But Not For Me displays an extremely delicate touch, and vies with How Long Has This Been Going On?, as the best in the album, though Crush and the others are also beautifully done.” Metronome echoed the praise: “The Gershwin songs are well suited to Ella’s voice; she lingers longingly and lovingly over some of George and Ira’s happiest collaborations.”

Afterwards, however, she resumed her old Decca formula, with a greater emphasis on string and choral backed commercial ballads. Not until four years later was she allowed another go with Larkins. Songs In A Mellow Mood gathers a dozen classy titles, ranging from show tunes (People Will Say We’re In Love, My Heart Belongs To Daddy) to ‘30s pop ballads (Please Be Kind, Until The Real Thing Comes Along, Star Dust) to a Gershwin encore (Nice Work If You Can Get It). By now more confident with such material, Fitzgerald stretches out a bit. She raises People Will Say We’re In Love to a romping tempo, her playful phrasing turning it from an anxious plea into a tease. The same rhythmic virtuosity sparks a dreamy Please Be Kind, not to mention an extra-slow My Heart Belongs To Daddy that finds her dragging seductively behind the beat. She takes her greatest melodic liberties on Makin’ Whoopee and Star Dust, reconstructing the second choruses as logically as if they had been written that way.

The rest of the album is full of gemlike touches: the perfect tag on What Is There To Say?; an excursion on the line “I’d tear the stars down from the sky for you” ((in Until The Real Thing Comes Along) that makes it sound as if she’s halfway there; the childlike sense of yearning she brings to Imagination, sung with that bell-like clarity that somehow never steals attention from the words.

“It’s a song recital that is one of the most rewarding experiences in the history of jazz recording,” raved Nat Hentoff in Down Beat that October. “The secret of Ella’s alchemy is that the more you hear her, the more surprised you are with each surprise. It’s like a Christmas stocking that’s never empty, that’s always full of new wonders.”

But to Fitzgerald’s disappointment, Mellow Mood got far less exposure than it deserved. “The album was something I was pleased with,” she told Hentoff in 1955. “It got such wonderful write-ups, and it seemed like everybody was playing it. But the disc jockeys claimed that the company didn’t give them the record. In fact, we had to buy it and give it to them. Now I don’t like to say anything against anybody, but maybe it’s because the record company is mainly interested in pictures now that they don’t give as much attention to the records. But I sure would like to record with someone who would give me something to record.”

By now her yearning to sing the standards had grown. “Frank Sinatra came into Basin Street often while he was at the Copa,” she said, “and he asked for ‘The Man That Got Away’ every time. He asked, ‘How come, Ella, you don’t have a number like that to record?’”

A few months later she began the Song Book series on Verve, which included that song as well as hundreds of others just as good. But Pure Ella holds an important reminder that her supremacy as an interpreter of quality pop began at Decca. Herein are 20 tracks that are as close to perfection as anything Ella Fitzgerald has ever recorded.
– James Gavin    

(Mr. Gavin writes about pop music for the New York Times, the Village Voice, Lear’s, and other publications. His book Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret is published by Limelight Editions.)


All selections by ELLA FITZGERALD, accompanied by ELLIS LARKINS, piano. All recorded in New York City.

This material has been transferred to digital tape directly from the original analog masters and is presented in the same sequence as on the two original albums. That sequence is shown on al other listings on the label and booklet of this compact disc. The discographical listing here, however, is not as issued, but is instead in the order in which the songs were recorded.

On September 11, 1950
Looking For A Boy (master number 76833 / first issued on Decca 27369)
My One And Only (76824 / De 27368)
How Long Has This Been Going On? (76825 / De 27370)
I’ve Got A Crush On You (76826 / De 27370)

On September 12, 1950

But Not For Me (76834 / De 27369)
Soon (76835 / De 27371)
Someone To Watch Over Me (76836 / De 27368)
Maybe (76837 / De 27371)

On March 29, 1954
I’m Glad There Is You (86087)
Baby, What Else Can I Do (86088)
What Is There To Say? (86089)
Makin’ Whoopee (86090)
Until The Real Thing Comes Along (86091)
People Will Say We’re In Love (86092)

On March 30, 1954
Please Be King (86093)
Imagination (86094)
My Heart Belongs To Daddy (86095)
You Leave Me Breathless (86096)
Nice Work If You Can Get It (86097)
Star Dust (86098)
All initially issued on 12” LP DL8068: Songs In A Mellow Mood

Originally Produced by Milt Gabler
Reissue Produced by Orrin Keepnews
Executive Producers: Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen

Digital transfers by Paul Elmore at MCA Music Media Studios
Remastered by Erick Labson at MCA Music Media Studios

Annotation by James Gavin
Project Director for GRP: Bud Katzel
Post-Production on reissue by Michael Landy and Joseph Doughney at The Review Room/NYC

Special thanks to Michele Mosler of MCA Music Media Studios and to Randy Aronson of the MCA tape vaults.

GRP Production Coordinator: Michael Pollard
Photography: Frank Driggs Collection, Institute of Jazz Studies
Art Direction: Dan Serrano, Hollis King
Graphic Design: Alba Acevedo
GRP Production Director: Sonny Mediana
Assisted by Sharon Franklin
GRP Creative Director: Andy Baltimore

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