Ella Fitzgerald

The Very Best of the Song Books

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Considered near the pinnacle of vocal jazz (along with Frank Sinatra's string of Capitol LPs), Ella Fitzgerald's eight Verve songbooks codified the canon of American Popular Song (uppercased) and continued to prove the best venue for learning what that phrase meant even 50 years after its genesis. (It's no wonder that the series even caused no less a figure than Ira Gershwin to amend the Constitution, so to speak, and suggest for Fitzgerald alone a few changes in the lyrics of his classics.) Despite their high pedigree, however, the songbooks are difficult to approach. Few of them shine much brighter than the others, and for a long period of the digital era they were available only in a gigantic box set or in radically altered reissues (the latter minus the remastering). That was rectified -- very gradually -- beginning in the late '90s, but The Very Best of the Song Books earns high marks because of how well it teases out the best material from the original 13 LPs. The Ella Fitzgerald version of these songs did not usually follow along with the standard versions of these fine old warhorses; her "Love for Sale" is surprisingly tender, and countless times she seems to follow a different trajectory with the notes she sings ("Where or When" is a perfect example). Meanwhile, the arrangers Buddy Bregman, Paul Weston, Nelson Riddle, and Billy May were unparalleled in their ability to spin new arrangements out of the occasional tired sheet. There's only one odd characteristic to The Very Best of the Song Books -- its length. It lasts only an hour-and-a-half, although it appears on two discs, which would allow room for more than an hour of additional music.

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