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Cream of the Decca Years
on December 26, 2005
I recently came across this CD in my local store and debated taking it home. With 94 Ella Fitzgerald CD's in my collection already, I need another Ella like I need a hole in my head. But when I noticed that it contained the tracks she made with Ellis Larkins on piano, I said "What the heck" and took it home anyway.
I might not have bothered; had I checked first I would have realized that the exact same tracks, in the exact same sequence, occupy disc three of the four-disc boxed set "Ella: The Legendary Decca Recordings". That's the problem with re-issue anthologies for someone as prolific a recording artist as Ella - there is always the danger that you already have the all or most of the material they contain.
But I never regret purchasing more of Ella Fitzgerald. These tracks are particularly interesting, as they were made right before her most fruitful and celebrated period, the "Song Book" sessions she did for Norman Granz on his Clef (later known as Verve) label. The idea of having Ella backed with just a piano was sheer genius, and one of the few correct things that Decca did for her during her years there. Ellis Larkins provides her with sympathetic accompaniment on these sessions, and she responds in kind. The Decca producers have long claimed that Ella was not "wasted" during her Decca period, as many critics and fans have complained. I am of the opinion that her Decca years were almost a complete waste, with these wonderful tracks a glorious exception. Her other Decca recordings seemed to concentrate on novelty numbers, and when she was given material she really deserved, the arrangements tended to be either overly commercial, or obscure her delightful voice. Decca has been very, very bad about releasing vintage material - I wish I had a dollar for every musical artist I have on a Decca vinyl whose material has not yet made it to CD, and Ella is no exception. Decca has yet to release quite a few of her original Decca recordings; all we get is anthology after anthology that tend to present the same material over and over. This is not the way they should be treating the female vocalist who made more records than any other female vocalist. Many people are not aware that Ella Fitzgerald is the third most recorded vocalist of all time. I was not surprised to learn that Frank Sinatra made more records than she did to occupy the #2 spot, but I am still floored to know that Bing Crosby officially remains the #1 recorded vocalist of all time.
Anyway, the music here is quite marvelous, as there is hardly an obscure song on the whole CD, and certainly not a single bad performance, either. It's hard as always with Ella to pick out a standout, but for my money, I'm Glad There Is You, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, How Long Has This Been Going On and Someone To Watch Over Me are the clear winners.
Just a few years after these sessions her career was to be guided by Norman Granz, who became her personal manager as well as her producer (for both records and concerts) and that is when her career, which had been languishing at Decca for years, really took off. But these tracks are the very best of her Decca years.