Ella Fitzgerald

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Phases & Stages

Ella Fitzgerald

Twelve Nights in Hollywood (Verve/Hip-O Select.Com)

Immaculate swing visited L.A.'s Sunset Strip when Ella Fitzgerald dug her heels into a residency at the 200-person Crescendo Club in 1961, jazz giant Verve Records then cutting to vinyl 12 live tracks as Ella in Hollywood. A half-century later, every night of the Virginia oracle's 12-night stand there – 10 in '61 and another two in '62 – snap, crackle, and pop across a 4-CD box set of 73 previously unreleased live dynamos. Though a slave to audience requests for the hits du jour ("Thanks for buying my records," she cracks wryly), Fitzgerald's genuinely relaxed, from greeting audience members Carl Reiner and Walter Winchell to playfully butchering "Candy" for its author in attendance and her Louis Armstrong impression on Twelve Nights closer "Bill Bailey/Reprise." The Gershwins, Cole Porter, Billy Strayhorn, etc. mingle among the diva's closest friends ("Mr. Paganini," "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," "Lullaby of Birdland") and a Tim Burton-esque triptych ("Witchcraft," "That Old Black Magic," "Bewitched") as backed by a foursome that includes guitarist Herb Ellis, whose few added licks on "Deep Purple" and Stan Levey's drumroll-plus on "Clap Hands! Here Comes Charlie" are the closest anyone comes to a solo on this set. Fitzgerald's laugh at the end of "Little White Lies" on disc one anticipates the teasing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," whose tempo and interpretation stop time before she launches into an Ellington standard by singing: "Someone, someone asked for 'Perdido.' Don't know how the lyrics go," then scatting and improvising kitchen-sink lyrics for six minutes – a feat she repeats during an equally lengthy "How High the Moon" from the third disc. Texans will either be amused or up in arms over "Across the Alley From the Alamo." The mile-a-minute, post-bop delivery of second disc closer "Joe Williams' Blues" proves no match for the lickety-split sexy "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" on the next CD, along with hearth-stopper "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and murderous "Stompin' at the Savoy." The final installment, with a piano trio, is even more intimate and yet louder, aggressively upbeat and fat of sound, which goes double for the room. Fitzgerald, then 45, sounds positively girlish on "Too Darn Hot." One cool customer.

****

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