Customer Reviews: The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books
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on February 6, 2005
I was able to hear Ella at Ravinia here in Chicago a year or two before her death and at the time was more familiar with her name than with the breadth of her musical talent. The evening was one of those experiences that is etched permanently in my mind, and I feel truly privileged to have heard Ella in person.

It was after that that I looked longingly at this set of hers for a couple of years before I had the nerve to bite the bullet and buy it, despite its high asking price. Looking back at the literal "days" of listening pleasure I've received from this set, as well as the visual feast that is included, with the individual CD jackets featuring the original cover artwork, I have to say it has been one of the wisest "impulse" purchases I've ever made. (Wise is not an adjective usually applied to an impulse purchase, but in this case it is an accurate description. The only other impulse purchase I've made that conjures up a similar emotional response from me is the Bose Wave System, which makes Ella sound just fine, by the way(!)...)

I felt passionate enough about this set to actually take the time and scan in the individual CD covers so they would appear within iTunes in my Mac when I played the tracks on my computer. Given that the scanned images were still available, I've uploaded them onto Amazon's website on this page for your perusal, enjoyment, right-clicking to save for your own use in iTunes, whatever. Oh, and did I say, enjoy this set!
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on February 2, 2002
worth every cent!
the true blue fan can't sometimes help but think that the sheer enormousness of this collection seem to make up for the quality of material ella recorded for decca (with "pure ella with ellis larkins" an exception). the albums on this set arguably defined her career and might as well be the tribute to her visionary producer and manager, norman granz. with bonus tracks, miniaturized versions of the books found on the vinyl versions of some of the cd's (check out the gershwin songbook!) and the elegantly packaged box the 16 discs comes in, you can't get any more de luxe than this!
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on January 19, 2002
After close to 20 years of languishing at Decca, recording songs good and dreadful, Ella Fitzgerald was finally able to record under the direction of her manager, Norman Granz. In order to provide a clean artistic break from her Decca material, he decided to institute a great american composer series, something Ella Fitzgerald was not too keen on. The series which resulted, the songbooks in this beautiful set, have become such a part of our collective memory, it's hard to believe they almost didn't happen. The sound on this set is consistently excellent, even when compared to my mint original vinyl; and there are extras, never before included.......these include false starts, patter between Ella and the engineers, all of which helps one realize she was a real person, and actually did make a few mistakes from time to time. As this began in 1956, some of the material in in mono only, as not all the labels were convinced of the worthiness of the then new stereo sound. Not to worry, the production is so consistently good, you probably will not notice which are mono and which are stereo. If I have one quibble with the set, it's the size.........The CDs are jacketed in miniature LP-style covers, complete with original liner notes, now so small as to be virtually unreadable. A pity, because a wealth of information about the music is in these notes. But, of course, the music is the main thing, by the greatest of all popular singers in history, Ella Fitzgerald. If you are in any way remotely interested in great singing and great songs, buy this set, it's a bargain at any price. In all honesty, this set deserves 80 stars, 5 for each of the 16 discs herein. It's a gem
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on June 1, 2006
If a better example of pre-rock-and-roll 20th Century popular music exists, I'd like to know about it. But, don't knock yourself out trying to find it, because you'll never convince me that anything comes anywhere near the scope of this collection. Simply put, Norman Granz, the producer/conceiver of these sessions and the owner of Verve Records, realized a concept that is so grandiose, so all-encompassing, so full of overwhelming talent, that it is without peer, both conceptually and in actuality. As hard is it may be for a contemporary (millennial) soul to comprehend, `pop' music once incorporated the musings of Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Cole Porter and each of the other brilliant, incomparable talents featured in this collection. Anybody who is even marginally interested in the history of music, both `popular' and `artistic', simply cannot claim competence without immersing themselves in this most remarkable of all thematic collections.

Thematic collections? This is an understatement of almost profound proportions, for which Norman Granz deserves his due. After all, it was his love of good music that led him to the point where he could credibly conceive of something so grand. At the time of its creation, Ella Fitzgerald was one of the most respected and well-received vocalists of all time. Her talents were beyond reproach, with a straightforward, pitch-perfect style that made her one of the most un-interpretable vocalists of all time; how do you imitate perfection? The only fault that was even remotely justifiable regarding Ella's vocalese was her lack of overt stylization (except when scatting, of course). At her best, Ella sang a song as if the song was the point, somehow transcending her interpreting abilities. In this collection, Granz conceived of a series of records whereby Ella would sing (the emphasis here is on her singing, not her stylistic interpretations) songs by the most well received songwriters of the classic jazz/pop era. It is not a concept that should be underrated. Song stylists like Louis Armstrong or Billie Holliday (the two most phenomenal song interpreters of their era, perhaps of all time) would have used these songs to their own ends; a brilliant concept, of course, but one that rotates around the interpreter, not the song itself. Ella, first and foremost, allows the songs to speak. Even better, the songwriters' voices transcend any coloration that is imbued on the material. This is, by definition, a collection of recordings that is meant to sound as good in the 31st century as it does today.

I don't want to seem as though I am incapable of criticizing this collection for my awe of it, although that very nearly is the truth. For example, some songwriters are more deserving of the royal treatment than others are. The collections featuring the music of Cole Porter and Duke Ellington are so good, so incredibly potent, that they eclipse expectations and serve as textbook examples of brilliance in interpretation. The Ellington collection is made exhaustively profound because of the presence of the Duke himself as arranger (and composer of new work) on his featured collection. All fans of Ellington (and how could you possibly not be a fan of Ellington, his arranger Billy Strayhorn, and his band?) simply must familiarize themselves with this set of recordings; it is essential. The three CD's that are dedicated to the collective genius of George and Ira Gershwin, with orchestrations arranged by the legendary Nelson Riddle, is the best and most compelling collection of their astounding genius, bar none. Others are merely brilliant, such as the Rodgers/Hart collection, which suffers only from a modern-day inability to grasp the spontaneity enveloping their work, allowing only a percentage of their collective genius ("Where or When", "My Funny Valentine," "It Never Entered My Mind") to filter through. Is every recording definitive? Decidedly not. Sinatra's version of "Lady Is a Tramp" slays Ella's. In my book, Dion and the Belmonts has the interpretable edge on "Where Or When". Any fan of rock and roll will never be able to hear "Blue Moon" without referring to Elvis Presley's astounding version for Sun Records, but that is not the point. You can search out these songs in an infinite number of places and find versions to suit your taste. What matters is that they are gathered here in one place, performed in a style that ranges from admirable to unbelievable. Admit it, the only thing holding you back from buying this is the price tag (usually hovering above $200, for a collection of 16 CD's, not cheap by any means). But do you love good music? Why on earth would you even be reading this review otherwise? Do yourself (and the future of good taste) a favor; spend the money, and settle in for a lifetime of entertainment, education and enlightenment. It'll be the bargain of a lifetime. A+ Tom Ryan
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on September 30, 1999
These are truly epic recordings. Ella's songbooks do for American pop songwriting what Alan Lomax did for roots music. Having a voice as wonderful as Ella's perform such an immense body of work is truly a gift. The box itself is beautfully designed. This collection is a paragon of talent, beauty and class.
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on October 27, 2000
If you haven't already pressed the One Click button, it must be the spectacular price of this set that's giving you pause. I understand, I've been there. I pondered the collection for years. I knew I wanted it but couldn't help wondering if mere CDs were worth the steep admission. I finally threw caution to the wind a few months ago and ordered. And you know what? The cost was trivial. I haven't looked back since cracking the shrink wrap on the cloth-covered box. If anything, I regret waiting to take the plunge. I could continue stringing together superlatives, but to what end? If you're an Ella fan, buy this set.
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on October 21, 2001
Music is a very important part of my life, and even though I'm largely a classical performer, I'm very lucky to have grown up in a household where the greats of jazz and dixieland were equally important. I still remember listening to my first Ella record more clearly than any other - my mom's recording of Ella in Berlin.
So, after the initial excitement of seeing this collection, and the extensive resuscitation needed after seeing the price, I found myself wondering if it could ever live up to my memories of listening to that great old Mack the Knife...
I haven't made a better purchace since. Now, please understand, this is a very specific segment of Ella's stylistic output. No scat or bop, no naive "A Tisket, A Tasket," this collection draws exclusively from the great songsmiths of the first half of the century. Each composer's output is thoroughly represented, with lush arrangements by such greats as Nelson Riddle, Paul Weston, and Bobby Bregman.
She gives us the only version of "Lady Be Good" that you ever need hear; the tracks "Lover," "Miss Otis Regrets," "Nice Work If You can Get it" are other personal favorites. I could easily eat up the 1000 word limit commenting on other effervescent tracks, so I'll save that for other reviewers.
However, special mention must be made of the Ellington Song Book. This collaboration alone makes the set worth
the purchase.
One nice additional touch are some alternate takes at the ends of each collection - a nice window into the creative process that goes on in the studio...
All this packaged beautifully in reproductions of the original record jackets, it is a loving tribute to the best jazz musician ever.
Trust me, this is the sort of music that makes life worth living...
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on May 1, 2002
Despite its somewhat hefty price tag, this 16-CD collection is a true must-have for fans of the Great American Songbook (old and new).
Aided by the likes of Nelson Riddle (Gershwin, Kern, Mercer), Duke Ellington, Paul Weston (Irving Berlin), Billy May (Harold Arlen), and Buddy Bregman (Porter, Rodgers and Hart), Miss Ella demonstrates why she'll always be the "First Lady of Song."
Of course, each songbook is sold separately, but to have them all in one!!!
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The reason why you won't find a single review that gives this collection less than five stars is because this is just a stunning, amazing, extremely satisfying collection of music. The greatest music composers and lyricists of our time, each represented and sung by one of the great female jazz vocalists of ALL time, combines to make 16 CD's of classic jazz. I hemmed and hawed over buying this because of the price and bodaciousness of the collection, but with The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings: Eighth Edition (Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings) making Ella singing Cole Porter one of its core collection selections, I wasn't sure I should buy just the Cole Porter portion, or if I should buy the whole giant set. I feared buying just the Cole Porter and being wowed and then having to kick myself for not buying the set, but I also feared buying the whole set and being stuck with 10, 12, or, God forbid, 16 CD's I was hardly going to listen to. I leapt in and bought the whole set, and I think it was worth every dollar. Jazz music collector's MUST have this whole set. Yes: MUST! Casual jazz fans and plain old good music lovers might get by with just certain portions, but trust me and the other thirty some odd reviewers who gave this five stars: You simply will not be disappointed with anything in here and this provides hours and hours of great jazz listening you, your loved ones, party guests, and people passing by while washing your car, will appreciate and enjoy.
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on June 22, 2005
You look at the price tag for this and wonder if it's worth it. IT MOST DEFINITELY IS. This package is bursting with quality in every aspect. It is supremely well assembled. When you open the box you find each songbook basically miniaturized and replicated from the original LPs. Even the Duke Ellington and Gershin come in tiny boxes (the Gershwin box even comes with a little, hardbound book and an individual sleeve of art cards). Exquisite! Everything has been meticulously well-crafted. The audio is of such high quality, I shudder in amazement each time I listen to them; it seems every inch of the original masters have been scrubbed clean to perfection. It is absolutely divine. If there's one criticism? It may be that some people will have difficulty reading the liner notes, faithfully rendered upon each songbook's cover art. It is very tiny and you might need a magnifying glass so as to avoid eye strain. But other than that, what you have here is one of the most beautifully packaged sets issued EVER. If and when this goes out of print, you can bet it's value will skyrocket like you won't believe.
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