Ella Fitzgerald got her professional start with Chick Webb's orchestra in 1935, and after Webb's death on June 16, 1939 the band stayed together, fronted by the 22-year-old singer. She had given them considerable commercial exposure, especially because of the 1938 hit "A-Tisket A-Tasket," and they were able to carry on for another three years. They even made regular radio appearances, doing remote broadcasts from such halls as the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, Roseland in midtown Manhattan, and the Grand Terrace in Chicago. This album of previously unreleased recordings consists of airchecks from those locations, the earliest made less than a month after Webb's death. Considerable audio restoration has been done, resulting in clean, vibrant tracks that bring out both the band's playing and Fitzgerald's vocals. These are lively performances of swing and novelty material, with a few rhythm ballads included at the end. Fitzgerald the swing singer is not the aspect of her career that critics usually favor, but she is unquestionably enthusiastic about such items as the Andrews Sisters' hit "Well All Right! (Tonight's the Night)" and "The Yodelin' Jive," and the band turns in strong performances. The closing track, however, is what jazz fans will most appreciate, a four-and-three-quarter-minute improvisation on "St. Louis Blues" with lots of solos and Fitzgerald's scatting. As this collection demonstrates, that was only one aspect of her talent.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann