This is generally acknowledged as the greatest of the eight superb selections that Ella Fitzgerald made from the Great American Songbook. Good though the first two volumes were, Norman Granz as producer excelled himself here because he was able to secure the services of Nelson Riddle as arranger and orchestral director. Andre Previn once remarked that these were the greatest selection of popular arrangements in one album he had ever heard.
The versatility of Nelson Riddle's arrangements would astonish anyone not familiar with his talents. It was he who resurrected Frank Sinatra's singing career in the early 1950s after he had been in the doldrums for several years after his `bobby-soxer' success in the early 1940s. In the 1940s Nat `King' Cole was known and respected as a great jazz pianist with his Trio. But then he started singing and the fans wanted more. It was Nelson Riddle who developed his career at Capitol Records too in the early 1950s. Riddle has accompanied pop singers like Linda Ronstadt and opera stars like Kiri te Kanawa. He has arranged at least 50 tunes on record in different styles for different artists. All this breadth of talent and experience expresses itself here.
George Gershwin's melodies with lyrics most often by his brother Ira are some of the best known and most performed in the popular music repertoire. In this selection we are treated to nearly 60 tunes and a number of alternative takes of popular numbers like `But not for me' and (perhaps not the most appropriate selection for Ella) `Lady be good'. Nelson has added an orchestral version of The Ambulatory Suite (remember Astaire `Walking the dog' on deck in the movie with Ginger Rogers, Shall We Dance?) and also orchestrated Gershwin's Three Piano Preludes.
But the star of the show is of course Ella Fitzgerald, though superbly supported by Nelson Riddle and the orchestra. With 60 tunes to choose from, what do I pick as examples? Certainly, `The real American folk-song' is unique, featuring as it does the `honky-tonk' piano playing (according to the booklet) of Paul Smith. `For you, for me, for evermore' is not heard as much as it should be I think. `Love is here to stay' and `Embraceable you' are long-standing favourites. There are so many more outstanding performances. Just buy and enjoy!!
on 30 December 2008
Seldom if ever was there a more felicitous collaboration between a couple of tunesmiths like the Gershwins, a female warbler like Miss Fitzgerald and a rapier waver like Nelson Riddle than on this set. While there may be more jazz on the Mercer Songbook, more incisive lyrics on the Arlen Songbook, more variety in the accompaniment on the Rodgers & Hart Songbook etc., none of the other albums have the same unique sense of 'rightness', when everything falls into place, where all details fit together like pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle to make one satisfying whole.
This set has a slight edge over the earlier three disc album (which is still available) in that there are some alternative versions added on disc four and some extra music (two orchestral pieces, which are not all that interesting, and one tune which in the narrow sense doesn't belong here, but which is one of the most famous Gershwin tunes: "Somebody Loves Me"), but most of all because of the digital restoration, the extensive liner notes and the complete discographical data (including orchestral personel).
Very warmly recommended!
on 24 September 2011
By far the best of any of the songbooks Ella Fitzgerald made "The George and Ira Gershwin" songbook is a tour de force of pure genius from Ella and legendary arranger Nelson Riddle. Originally released as 5 albums in 1959 this new re-release of the project has had a digital remastering with the addition of bonus takes and mixes etc.
In January 1959 Ella and Riddle embarked on an ambitious project to record all of George and Ira Gershwin's music, some of which had not even been recorded at the time! Riddle was coming off some of his best work with Sinatra and Ella was vocally in her prime at this point in her career. The recording was done over a few sessions ending in Aug/Sep of 1959, by the end of recording 53 songs plus several instrumental cuts, both must have been exhausted!
With so many songs on here it's hard to pick out a few that are the best but if i had to my choice cuts would be - "S Wonderful" "Who cares" "Oh lady be good" "I've got beginners luck" and "That certain feeling" but there are a myriad of others equally deserving of high praise, Riddle's arrangements of the material are sublime and with Ella in her prime the whole album is majestic from start to finish.
Ira Gershwin ( who was still alive at the time) commented after the record was released that he never knew he and his brothers songs could sound so good! Also legendary musician Andre Previn was so impressed with Riddle's work on the album he recommended him to various people in the business for muscial projects.
With this new re-release there comes an additional disc of outakes and mono recordings which are very welcome and the booklet is very informative stating all the musicians, recording dates and interviews with the personnel involved. The 20 bit digital remastering is excellent, i doubt if the material could sound any better.
I can't recommend this enough. Regarded as one of the best albums of the 1950's and rightly so and easily the best of ella's songbooks. ella recorded 2 other songbooks with Riddle for Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern as well as 2 other regular albums (Swing gently and swing brightly) which are also very very good indeed.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED 5/5