When Ella Fitzgerald selected the songs of Irving Berlin for the fourth volume in her acclaimed Songbook series, it turned out to be a match made in heaven. Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook, recorded over one week in March 1958, featured more than 30 selections from the legendary songwriter including "Puttin' on the Ritz," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Cheek to Cheek," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Always," and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." Berlin's extraordinary body of work inspired some of the singer's most remarkable performances, all set to the vibrant arrangements of Paul Weston. Ella earned a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance - Female and a nomination for Album of the Year at the very first Grammy ceremony (one of two trophies she picked up on that landmark evening, the other being in the Jazz field for her Duke Ellington songbook). But before the Grammys, and just a few months after recording the album, Fitzgerald and Weston took to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl on August 16, 1958 to introduce their renditions to a live audience. Now, this once-in-a-lifetime evening from The First Lady of Song is coming to CD, vinyl, and digital formats.
Tomorrow, June 24, Verve/UMe will release the complete, never-before-issued 15-song performance as Ella at the Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook. The performance was discovered in the personal archive of Verve founder and Fitzgerald producer/manager/confidante Norman Granz. It wasn't typical for Fitzgerald to perform the Songbook arrangements in concert, let alone with the original arranger-conductor. This was the only time she performed live with Weston, and her only full-length Hollywood Bowl concert to be released. (She famously appeared on Verve's original Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl LP, and her "Too Close for Comfort" from that set is featured on the upcoming Hollywood Bowl 100: The First 100 Years of Music box set.) Among the songs she performed that night for the adoring Bowl crowd include the showstopping "Puttin' on the Ritz," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails," and "Heat Wave;" the dramatic "Supper Time;" and romantic "Always" and "How Deep Is the Ocean." Somewhat lesser-known Berlin compositions such as "You're Laughing at Me," "Russian Lullaby," and "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" also made the cut for the setlist.
The live tracks were mixed from the original tapes by Grammy Award-winning producer and drummer Gregg Field who played with Ella late in her life. Will Friedwald provides the package's new liner notes. He writes, in part, "[To] come on stage - with a full orchestra - and essentially sing the contents of a studio album, well, nobody did that. Not Sinatra, not Tony Bennett, not Miles Davis, nor any of the other key innovators who contributed to the development of what came to be known as 'the concept album.' So exactly why did Fitzgerald and Granz choose to face this particular music and dance in this singular fashion? We may never know, but the logical answer is that the songbooks were proving to be such a major component to her burgeoning career that... Fitzgerald and Granz were determined to do something special in honor of the ongoing series."
Irving Berlin died in 1989 at the age of 101, having lived long enough to see his songs celebrated by generation after generation. But truth to tell, his place in the pantheon was long cemented. George Gershwin (1898-1937) called the Russia-born Jewish immigrant "the greatest songwriter that has ever lived," and Jerome Kern (1885-1945) asserted that "Irving Berlin has no place in American music - he is American music." Ella Fitzgerald passed away in 1996 at the age of 79; her eight Songbook albums released between 1956 and 1964 remain a cornerstone of American popular song. (A ninth volume was belatedly issued in 1981 honoring Brazil's Antonio Carlos Jobim.)
You can get a preview of the concert today with "Puttin' on the Ritz," which is currently streaming on YouTube and elsewhere in an animated music video directed by Alberto Baroni incorporating Giulia Pelizzaro's album artwork. Ella At The Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook is available to order now on CD, LP (including color variants), and digitally at the below links.
Ella Fitzgerald, Ella At The Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook (Verve/UMe, 2022)
- The Song Is Ended
- You're Laughing at Me
- How Deep Is the Ocean
- Heat Wave
- Cheek to Cheek
- Russian Lullaby
- Top Hat White Tie and Tails
- I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
- Get Thee Behind Me Satan
- Let's Face the Music And Dance
- Puttin' on the Ritz
- Let Yourself Go
- Alexander's Ragtime Band
All tracks previously unreleased