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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Sings the George & Ira Gershwin
Song Book

Essential Jazz Classics EJC 689




  1. Ambulatory Suite

    1. Promenade (Walking the Dog)

    2. March of the Swiss Soldiers

    3. Fidgety Feet

  2. The Preludes

    1. Prelude I

    2. Prelude II

    3. Prelude III

  3. Sam and Delilah

  4. But Not for Me

  5. My One and Only

  6. Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

  7. (I've Got) Beginner's Luck

  8. Oh, Lady Be Good!

  9. Nice Work If You Can Get It

  10. Things Are Looking Up

  11. Just Another Rhumba

  12. How Long Has This Been Going On?

  13. 'S Wonderful

  14. The Man I Love

  15. That Certain Feeling

  16. By Strauss

  17. Someone to Watch Over Me

  18. The Real American Folk Song (is a Rag)

  19. Who Cares?

  20. Looking for a Boy


  1. They All Laughed

  2. My Cousin in Milwaukee

  3. Somebody from Somewhere

  4. A Foggy Day

  5. Clap Yo' Hands

  6. For You, For Me, For Evermore

  7. Stiff Upper Lip

  8. Boy Wanted

  9. Strike Up the Band

  10. Soon

  11. I've Got a Crush on You

  12. Bidin' My Time

  13. Aren't You Kind of Glad We Did?

  14. Of Thee I Sing

  15. “The Half of It, Dearie” Blues

  16. I Was Doing All Right

  17. He Loves and She Loves

  18. Love is Sweeping the Country

  19. Treat Me Rough

  20. Love Is Here to Stay

  21. Slap That Bass

  22. Isn’t It a Pity?

  23. Shall We Dance?

  24. Love Walked In


  1. You've Got What Gets Me

  2. They Can't Take That Away from Me

  3. Embraceable You

  4. I Can't Be Bothered Now

  5. Boy! What Love Has Done to Me!

  6. Fascinating Rhythm

  7. Funny Face

  8. Lorelei

  9. Oh, So Nice!

  10. Let’s Kiss and Make Up

  11. I Got Rhythm

  12. Somebody Loves Me

  13. Cheerful Little Earful

  14. But Not For Me

  15. Lorelei

  16. Someone to Watch Over Me

  17. My One and Only

  18. But Not For Me

  19. Looking for a Boy

  20. I’ve Got a Crush On You

  21. How Long Has This Been Going On?

  22. Maybe

  23. Soon

  24. Nice Work if You Can Get It.

Collective personnel
Ella Fitzgerald – Vocals
Nelson RiddleArranger, conductor
Don Fagerquist , Pete Candoli, Joe Triscari, ConradGozzo , Cappy Lewis, Vito Mangano, Mannie Klein , Dale McMickle, Shorty Sherock – Trumpet
Milt Bernhart , James Priddy, Juan Tizol, Richard Noel, Tommy Pederson – Trombone
Karl DeKarske, George Roberts – Bass trombone
Vincent DeRosa, James Decker – French horn
Ed Gilbert or Red Callender – Tuba
Ted Nash , Benny Carter, Ronnie Lang – Alto sax
Plas Johnson – Tenor sax
Chuck Gentry – Bass sax
Buddy Collette , Buck Skalak, Gene Cipriano, Jewell Grant, Jules Jacob, Wilbur Schwartz, Justin Gordon, William Green, Harry Klee, Joe Koch, Champ Webb – Woodwinds
Paul Smith , Lou Levy, Ellis Larkins – Piano
Herb Ellis , Barney Kessel – Guitar
Joe Comfort, Ralph Pena – Bass
Alvin Stoller, Mel Lewis, Bill Richmond – Drums
Frank Flynn, Larry Bunker - Percussion
String section:
Israel Baker , Henry Hill, Harold Dicterow, Erno Neufield, Victor Arno, Victor Bay, Alex Beller, Joseph Livoti, Jacques Gasselin, Walter Edelstein, James Getzoff, Eudice Shapiro, Ben Gill, Murrary Kellner, Nat Ross, Felix Slatkin, Marshall Sosson, Misha Russell, Paul Shure, Dan Lube, Gerald Vinci – Violin
Alvin Dinken, Lou Kievman, David Sterkin, Stanley Harris, Paul Robyn, Barbara Simons – Viola
Elizabeth Greenschpoon, James Arkatov, Armand Kaproff, George Neikrug, Dave Filerman, Kurt Reher - Cello
Katharine Julyie - Harp

These recordings have been reissued numerous times since they first appeared in 1959, but it is good to have all of them on three CDs, together with some other Gershwin songs interpreted by Ella.

When reviewing a recording by Ella Fitzgerald, one has to face criticisms of her as a lightweight singer without emotional depth. The Encyclopedia of Popular Music refers to Ella’s “Lack of emotional intensity”. Writing on the internet, a reviewer said that he preferred Billie Holiday’s version of Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off because he said that Billie’s interpretation conveyed what a tragedy it would be if the loving couple “called the whole thing off”. But surely this is an ironical song in which a couple jokingly bewail the unlikely possibility that they might have to split up over a trivial matter of pronunciation. Instead of profundity or tragedy, Ella gives us largely cheerful performances. They may sometimes seem to lack “emotional intensity”. Instead you get the pleasant experience of someone clearly enjoying life and savouring George Gershwin’s memorable melodies, plus the wit and buoyant attitudes of Ira Gershwin’s lyrics – surely something well worth having, particularly in these dark days.

Incidentally, Ira Gershwin was still alive when these recordings were made and he revised some of the lyrics slightly. His response to these recordings was sufficient refutation of the more gloomy approach to the Gershwin brothers’ creations: “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella sing them”.

Having got this far with writing the review, I belatedly remembered that I had already reviewed the identical set back in 2011 when it was previously released! Put my memory lapse down to my age. But with such a classic collection, there is no harm in a second listen – and a second assessment, although my conclusions will be fairly similar.

I’ll pick out a few representative tracks. (I’ve Got) Beginner’s Luck exemplifies how Ella often sings the rarely-hear verses, which contain some apposite Ira Gershwin lyrics (e.g. “That’s what I always heard, And always thought absurd”). In the film of the same name, Fred Astaire memorably addressed Funny Face to Audrey Hepburn, but Ella addresses the song to a man, including the verse (“Truth to tell though, you’re not such a lot yourself, As a Cary Grant you’re not so hot yourself”). There’s a hint of wry humour in the way she sings it.

Ella’s ability with cheerful songs is exemplified by You Got What Gets Me, like several items here, a rare Gershwin composition. Cheerful Little Earful has Ira Gershwin’s cheeky sequence of rhymes: “lowdown – slowdown - the milk and honey flow down.” The “earful” turns out to be “I love you”. Ella convincingly sings “You can do it” (even if you “pooh-pooh it”). She takes pleasure in the lyrics of such songs as They Can’t Take That Away from Me, where the verse includes those convoluted but agreeably inventive lines “The song is ended but as the songwriter wrote, “The melody lingers on”.

Tracks 12 to 15 on the third CD are alternate takes from the same sessions. But one of the most cherishable parts of these discs is the one comprising tracks (CD3, tracks 16 to 24) that Ella recorded with pianist Ellis Larkins. Larkins accompanied Ella with superb empathy and a tender grace, which was matched by Ella herself, making for calmer tracks than some of those on the Song Book set. Just listen to a track like But Not For Me, where Ella’s simple, unfussy delivery is matched by gentle accompaniment from Ellis, including a piano half-chorus with a subtle hint of stride. It actually brings tears to my eyes.

As well as the tens of songs listed here, the Gershwin brothers wrote a large amount of other masterpieces. But Ella recorded numerous Gershwin compositions on other albums, which suggests what a rich treasure these two brothers left us. I consider this the best of all Ella’s “Song Book” series. You are unlikely to hear these songs better performed anywhere, especially now that so many young hopefuls think they can interpret these songs equally well, if not better. They can’t.

Tony Augarde

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