Ella Fitzgerald recorded so much, and so much of what she recorded was so good, that the notion of one album summing her up is all but ludicrous. That said, this two-disc set, a companion to a television documentary by the same title, comes the closest of any album so far. It is the first album to span the two most important eras of her recordings, the Decca years, 1935-1955, and the Verve years, 1956-1966. The eight Decca performances include Fitzgerald's first big hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket"; the 1947 scat masterpiece "How High the Moon"; and a selection from the voice-and-piano album Ella Sings Gershwin, "But Not for Me," which foreshadowed the singer's songbook albums of the late '50s and '60s. The Verve recordings get their official start with the appropriate inclusion of "Ridin' High" from 1956's Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book, one of five selections from the celebrated songbook albums. The rest of the choices are gems from Fitzgerald's career, including some stunning scat features, notably a version of "Airmail Special" from the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. The memorable 1960 Berlin performance of "Mack the Knife," with its improvised lyrics, is included, as is a live 1962 recording of "Bill Bailey" which finds this uncanny mimic doing impressions of Della Reese and Pearl Bailey. The uptempo material is offset with some wonderful ballads, among them a version of "Angel Eyes" with only Barney Kessel providing a guitar accompaniment. Fitzgerald fans could cite dozens (if not hundreds) of other stellar performances, many of them from after the 1966 cut-off point of this album, but this is the first time such a long period of Fitzgerald's career has been captured on a single album. Many of the recordings that nearly all fans would agree rank among her best are here.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2