born in April 1917, Ella Fitzgerald enjoyed a fifty-nine year career that saw her crowned The Queen of Jazz and The First Lady of Song. With a three-octave vocal range, Lady Ella became one of the most influential and revered singers in the history of jazz music. Ella Fitzgerald influenced, and continues to influence, a new generation of singers. Famed for delivery, with peerless diction, phrasing and intonation, it’s no surprise that, during her career, she won thirteen Grammy Awards. She recorded for some of the biggest record labels of the day. Decca, Verve, Capitol and Columbia were all home for The Queen of Jazz. Similarly, Lady Ella worked with some of the greatest songwriters in American music, includinh George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Billie Holliday all worked with The First Lady of Song. 

After Ella’s death in 1996, she left behind one of the richest musical legacies behind, in the shape of her discography. For anyone yet to discover Lady Ella’s music, there’s a veritable treasure trove of music awaiting their discovery. All this choice can prove confusing. Newcomers to Ella’s music wonder where the best place to start? This choice has recently gotten a whole lot easier. Proper Records recently released Dearly Beloved, a four-disc box set, which whether you’re a newcomer to, Lady Ella’s music is a treasure trove of some of Ella’s greatest recordings. For veterans of Ella’s music, this lovingly compiled compilation, carefully remastered box set, contains some of the most in-depth, informative sleeve-notes I’ve come across recently. Joop Viser’s sleeve-notes to Dearly Beloved, are a true labor of love and are a fitting homage to Ella Fitzgerald, The First Lady of Song. So, without any further ado, I’ll tell you what’s in-store inside Dearly Beloved, Proper Records four-disc box set.


Disc One of Dearly Beloved, is entitled In A Mellow Mood and features twenty-three features songs Ella recorded with Ellis Larkins. Their first collaboration was in 1954, on the Decca album Songs In A Mellow Mood. This includes I’m Glad There Is You, Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish’s Stardust, Cole Porter’s My Heart Belongs To Daddy, the sassy Makin’ Whoopee and What Is There To Say? Larkin and Ella’s next collaboration was in June 1954, which resulted in tracks like George Shearing’s Lullaby of Birdland, which became of Ella’s most popular songs. Another song cut was Later, penned by Tiny Bradshaw and Henry Glover. Later in 1954, Ella received an award from Decca commemorating record sales of twenty-two million. Among the other tracks on Disc One, are live rendition of Pete Kelly’s Blues, which is a tantalizing glimpse of what Ella’s live performances were like. At the ned of 1955, Ella left Decca, signing to Verve. Her first release for Verve saw her cover the work of Cole Porter.

In 1956, Verve released Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook. With an orchestra conducted by Buddy Bregman, and an all-star orchestra, Ella recorded what would become one of her classic albums. On Disc One, I Love Paris, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Do I Love You and Why Can’t You Behave? One of the most poignant is Every Time We Say Goodbye, which Ella’s breathes meaning, beauty and emotion into. Quite simply, it’s one of the highlights of Disc One In A Mellow Mood.


After the musical delights on Disc One of Dearly Beloved, you’d think that matching, never mind surpassing the quality wouldn’t be easy? Well, for other artists it would be hard, but this is Lady Ella during her period at Verve. In February 1956, Ella recorded a trio of tracks. These were Easy To Love, Get Out of Town and one of Ella’s classics, Miss Otis Regrets. Good as these tracks were, they proved to be just a musical aperitif. 

The following day, Ella returned to Capitol Studios to record another twelve tracks from the Cole Porter Songbook. Accompanying her were Buddy Bregman’s Orchestra. Things get even better with tracks like Anything Goes, You Do Something To Me, Begin The Beguine, I Love Paris, Night and Day. As if that’s not enough, there’s also What Is This Thing Called Love, You’re The Top, All Of You and I Concentrate On You. The tracks from Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook demonstrate just why they called Ella The Queen of Jazz. Her secret weapon was that three-octave vocal range. She brings each song to life, delivering it with either emotion, passion or sadness or tenderness or power. Sass or swing, Ella’s equally comfortable. Mind you, she was helped no end by having songs from one of America’s greatest ever songwriters. A combination of Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter, music just doesn’t get much better. For the first two discs of Dearly Beloved, you’re getting much more than you’re money’s worth. Even better, there’s still two discs to come.


Five words no-one wants to heard spoken in a relationship, Can We Still Be Friends? That’s the title of Disc Three of Dearly Beloved, which features ten tracks Ella recorded with Louis Armstrong. This wasn’t the first time the pair had recorded or worked together. Indeed, the day before recording began at Capitol’s Hollywood Studios, Ella joined Louis Armstrong’s All-Star Band at the Hollywood Bowl. Making this session happen hadn’t been easy. Both artists managers were tough negotiators. Eventually, negotiations were over and work began on what material the pair should record. Norman Granz, Ella’s manager wanted Louis to take Louis out of his comfort zone, as his song selections were sometimes perceived as predictable. So, ten tracks were chosen for what became Ella and Louis. This included Can’t We Be Friends, Irving Berlin’s Isn’t This A Lovely Day and Cheek To Cheek, Moonlight In Vermont, April In Paris and The Nearness Of You. Having taken Louis out of his perceived comfort zone, the results were critically acclaimed, and seen as one of the best albums of the decade. Following the Louis and Ella sessions, five days later, Ella was back in the studio, to visit the songbook of two legendary American songwriters, Rogers and Hart.

Recording of what became Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Rogers and Hart Songbook started on 21st August 1956. Accompanied by a full swing band lead by Buddy Bregman, Ella worked her way through one Rogers and Hart classic after another. This Can’t Be Love, The Lady is a Tramp, There’s A Small Hotel, With A Song In My Heart and Bewitched. On The Lady is a Tramp, Ella and her band cut loose and swing, cutting an Ella Fitzgerald classic. Very different, but incredibly beautiful, tender and moving, is Ella’s reading of Bewitched. Remarkably, Ella and her band were cutting eight tracks a day. In just two days, they recorded sixteen tracks. Given the quality of this classic, timeless music, that’s quite remarkable. When the ten songs from Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Rogers and Hart Songbook are combined with the eight from Ella and Louis, then Disc Three proves that the quality of music on Dearly Beloved is consistently of the highest quality. Will that be the case on Disc Four of Dearly Beloved?


While Disc Three of Dearly Beloved featured eight tracks from Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Rogers and Hart Songbook, Disc Four features Ella’s take on the music of another legendary American jazz musician and songwriter, Duke Ellington. Before that could begin, Ella had to finish the Rogers and Hart sessions. On 4th September 1956, Ella finished recording Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Rogers and Hart Songbook. There was to be no rest for Ella. Instead, she would begin work on the Duke Ellington sessions. Accompanied by Buddy Bregman’s Orchestra. Work began immediately.

During the Rogers and Hart sessions, Ella twice cut eight songs in one day. She surpassed this during the Duke Ellington sessions, recording fourteen tracks. Ella chose some of the best music from Duke Ellington’s songbook. Among the tracks that feature on Disc Four are classics like Satin Doll, In A Sentimental Mood, It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, the aptly-titled Sophisticated Lady, I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart and Rocks In My Bed. Disc Four features fourteen tracks from what became Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Duke Ellington Songbook. It became one of Ella’s seminal albums.  So it’s no surprise that these tracks overshadow most of the other tracks on Disc Four. Only My Funny Valentine comes close. However, given the standard of music that’s chosen from Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Duke Ellington Songbook that’s no surprise. Remarkably, the quality has remained consistent through the four discs that comprise Dearly Beloved. What better way to close Dearly beloved is there, than Ella Fitzgerald singing the music of Duke Ellington?

For anyone looking for an introduction to Ella Fitzgerald, look no further than Proper Records’ four-disc box set Dearly Beloved. It covers the end of her period at Decca and the beginning of her time at Verve. Staring with songs from Ella’s Decca album Songs In A Mellow Mood, we head into Ella’s time at Verve. There’s ten tracks from Ella’s collaboration with Louis Armstrong, a selection of tracks from four of the greatest American songwriters. Starting with songs from Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook, through Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook, Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Rogers and Hart Songbook and then Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Duke Ellington Songbook, this is the perfect introduction to Lady Ella. Granted there are tracks from other sessions, including a trio of live tracks that are a tantalizing taste of The Queen of Jazz live. Then there’s Joop Viser’s sleeve-notes to Dearly Beloved. Truly, when reading them, I was struck by how this has been a true labor of love for him. His sixteen-thousand word essay is a fitting homage to Ella Fitzgerald’s fifty-nine year career. Incredibly detailed and researched, this is an example of what sleeve-notes should be like. Together with the four discs that comprise Dearly Beloved, Proper Records have released the not just the perfect introduction to Ella Fitzgerald, The Queen of Jazz, but one veterans of Ella’s music will cherish too. Standout Tracks: Stardust, You Do Something To Me, Bewitched and In A Sentimental Mood.


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