The title is a tall order for any single-disc compilation--a box set probably isn't big enough to contain the essential Ella Fitzgerald--but this 16-track collection is a start. Covering the late '50s and early '60s, arguably Fitzgerald's golden years though her career stretched from the '30s through the '80s, THE GREAT SONGS collects the best of Norman Granz's productions for Fitzgerald, including her storied collaborations with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie.
Fitzgerald was a consummate jazz singer, as shown in the two very different versions of the standard "Oh, Lady Be Good" that open the album. The first, a studio take, is lush and languorous, with Fitzgerald's honey-dipped voice a silky, sultry purr. The second is a brassy live take featuring an extended, breathless scat solo that's among Fitzgerald's very best. The two styles alternate throughout, making this an excellent overall introduction.