No one can accuse Ella Fitzgerald of having a short career; the singer was only 18 when she started recording in 1935, and she was 69 when she recorded her final album, All That Jazz, in 1989. Early Ella: 1935-1940 takes us back to the dawn of Fitzgerald's recording career -- a time when she still had some growing and developing to do and her singing was still a bit nasal. It wasn't until the mid-'40s that she really blossomed as a vocalist. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald was quite popular during the Swing Era, and these pre-bebop recordings (many of them with Chick Webb's big band) demonstrate that her early work could be enjoyably charming. Assembled for Allegro's Jazz Legends series in 2003, Early Ella is a big improvement over the jazz collections that Allegro released on the low-budget Columbia River label -- some of which were plagued by a total absence of recording dates and personnel. But that isn't a problem on Early Ella, and the person who can take much of the credit for that is jazz critic Scott Yanow. Allegro has used Yanow as a consultant on the Jazz Legends series; in addition to writing the CD's liner notes, Yanow picked the 21 tracks, and his choices are good ones. Performances of "Stairway to the Stars," "My Melancholy Baby" and other standards paint an attractive, if imperfect, picture of Fitzgerald's formative years. Yanow usually avoids novelty songs -- that is, unless it's something historically important like the 1938 hit "A Tisket, A-Tasket." Early Ella isn't for those who have only a casual interest in Fitzgerald's legacy; again, she had yet to reach her creative peak when these 1935-1940 recordings were made. But the singer's more seasoned fans will find this CD to be a likable overview of her early output.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
feat: Teddy Wilson
feat: Teddy Wilson