IN THE BEGINNING…Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Zardi’s

No, this is not the very first live or studio recording of Our Lady of Swing. Yet, a convincing argument could be made that this previously unreleased collection of two sets from February 2, 1956 at the chic LA club Zardi’s, being Norman Granz’s first “live” recording on his nascent Verve Record Label, is when Ella Fitzgerald came into her own as America’s most important jazz singer.

Sure, she had hits like “A-Tisket A-Tasket” with big band leader Chick Webb, and did some excellent, if inconsistent, material for Decca. But it’s with Verve where she set the high standard of concert recordings as well as Songbook collections, and you get to see her right at the crossroads on this well recorded, some enchanted evening.

The two sets are introduced by clarinetist Buddy DeFranco (couldn’t he have sat in on at least ONE song?!?), and Ella is backed by the dependably tight team of Don Alneyp, Vernon Alley/b and Frank Capp/dr. The tunes are for the most part fairly concise, with Albney giving strong firm two handed block support through most of the tunes such as “A Fine Romance” and “The Tender Trap.” Ella herself is in amazing form, joking while taking requests on beautiful reads of “Tenderly” and having a gas with “I Can’t Five You Anything But Love,” and digging deep blues on “Why Don’t You Do Right”. She shows her scat and improve chops on a torrid “Bernie’s Tune” and “Airmail Specia,l” while taking a slooow and seductive “Gone With The Wind” to its sensuous end. This is ELLA?!? WHEW!

Four days after this gig Ella went into the studios to re-arrange the world with her Cole Porter Songbook. This recording sets the stage for the shaking up of the world. This one’s up there with her absolute best!

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