The Great American Songbook is the umbrella term for the most significant—and truly timeless—popular works from the 1920s through the '50s. And a case can be made that Ella Fitzgerald left the most indelible stamp on those classics on her seminal Song Book sessions, which were released on Verve Records between 1956 and 1964.
The eight volumes include 244 songs by the unparalleled craftsmen of well-turned words and masterful melodies, including Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, and Irving Berlin. Ira Gershwin said, "I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them." Fitzgerald's interpretive brilliance earned her the nickname the First Lady of Song.
Fitzgerald was working her vocal magic—a sublime blend of infectious joy, passion and technical precision—long before the epic Song Book series. She was born in 1918 in Newport News, Va.; she survived a troubled youth and found her calling after winning first prize ($25) at an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in 1934. Four years later, Fitzgerald's first hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," was recorded with the Chick Webb Orchestra. Over the next 50 years, she recorded and performed with a who's who of jazz and pop legends, while "How High the Moon" and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" joined her list of signature songs.
During a stint with Dizzy Gillespie's big band in the mid-'40s, Fitzgerald added scat singing to her powerful vocal repertoire. "I just tried to do what I heard the horns in the band doing," she said.
Let's circle back to those Song Books and give esteemed jazz writer Gary Giddins the last words: "Time and again in these and other exemplary performances, Ella Fitzgerald does something so reflexively inventive or poignant, so casually insightful, that you want to stop the disc and marvel in silence. Elsewhere, the ebullience takes over and you can hardly believe your luck—to live in the world of Ella. It is to laugh out loud."
We encourage you to spend some time with The Complete Original Song Books and laugh—and sing and scat—along with the First Lady of Song.
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