Season three of M Means Music has returned with a new episode offering an in-depth look at Ella Fitzgerald’s seminal new archival live release, Ella At The Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook.
Host Daryl Easlea kicks off the episode with a bit of background on Ella, saying, “It is impossible to overestimate Ella Fitzgerald’s importance; in 1956, after she had enjoyed over 20 years in the business, her manager, producer Norman Granz created Verve Records–to become one of the most loved and revered labels in jazz–around her.
“On top of that, he and Ella masterminded a step away from the be-bop that she had been singing so beautifully for years, into the Songbook series, bringing her gravitas to the great contemporary composers–the trend began in 1956 when she released the epochal album, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book.”
Easlea also offers up some context for Fitzgerald’s appearance at the famed Los Angeles venue, saying, “Although accustomed to ballrooms and clubs, in 1956, Fitzgerald made her debut at the Hollywood Bowl. The concert enthralled a 20,000 audience until well after midnight, was a huge success. From that point on, Fitzgerald was invited to appear at the Bowl regularly.
“Over the course of her lifetime, Fitzgerald performed at the Bowl in various formats, including with her trio and, in the rare case of August 16th, 1958–with a full orchestra led by [Paul] Weston, who’d arranged Fitzgerald’s Songbook album.
New York Times critic Frank Rich said that Ella “performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis’ contemporaneous integration of white and African American soul: Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominately white Christians.”
In 2021, an intriguing painting–presumed to be a print of a famous work–was discovered in the dusty closet of a Maine home. Later, an auctioneer gave relatives of the late homeowner the shock of their lives: their great-aunt had stashed away a previously unknown Picasso original, a mock-up of his largest-ever work “Le Tricorne,” in a closet for fifty years. This is what it was like, according to Grammy-winning producer and drummer Gregg Field, when he came across an unreleased recording of Ella Fitzgerald performing the Irving Berlin songbook live at the Hollywood Bowl in 1958. For more than fifty years, the analog tapes of this performance sat in the private collection of Fitzgerald’s manager-producer and Verve Records founder Norman Granz.
“Ella’s still, to this day, one of the most important jazz singers…and to have something of the magnitude of [a live performance at] the Hollywood Bowl with an orchestra… I mean, this is a real treasure,” said Field, who produced and mixed the new release, Ella at the Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook.