Ella Fitzgerald: Ella In Berlin

The 1960 Berlin session that turned Mack The Knife into a captivating wreck is paired with the singer at Hollywood Bowl with Armstrong et al


This is the album that features Fitzgerald’s celebrated “wreck” of Mack The Knife, where she forgot the words and ad-libbed several verses. It was so popular that the album was reissued as Mack The Knife.

With only nine tracks the original album weighed in at a little over 30 minutes, eight of which comprised the last track, How High The Moon. The brevity is explainable: this was, in fact, Ella’s segment in one of Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Phil concerts which offered a full evening’s entertainment. This particular package also included Roy Eldridge, the Jimmy Giuffre trio and the Shelly Manne quintet.

I doubt seriously that any Fitzgerald fan has complained about the brevity, especially those who rate quality higher than quantity. In 1960 Ella was, give or take a gig either way, at her peak. The milestone Ella And Louis album was only four years behind her and it was only three years earlier that she embarked on her acclaimed songbook series of albums.

These nine tracks are as good as it gets, from Gone With The Wind – a somewhat neglected ballad from just before the war – to How High The Moon, which was heard at jazz clubs on both sides of the pond around 1950. On the latter, by far the longest track on the album, Ella gives a master-class in scatting.

Possibly in order to offer value for money, 20th Century have thrown in eight tracks from Ella’s first concert from the Hollywood Bowl (not to be confused with a new reissue, Ella At The Hollywood Bowl, which is, in fact, the Irving Berlin Songbook under another name). For this 1958 gig Ella was backed by Paul Smith, Alvin Stoller, Barney Kessel, and Joe Mondragon. Louis Armstrong was also there that night with his own band, and they accompany Ella on the last two tracks.

The two albums complement each other so well that it’s difficult to see the join and there’s just enough class – Love For Sale, Little Girl Blue, Just One Of Those Things – to raise the bar. This release will enhance anyone’s collection.

(1) Gone With The Wind; Misty; The Lady Is A Tramp; The Man I Love; Summertime; Too Darn Hot; Lorelei; Mack The Knife; How High The Moon; (2) Love For Sale; Just One Of Those Things; Little Girl Blue; Too Close For Comfort; I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; Airmail Special; (3) You Won’t Be Satisfied; Undecided (63.48)
(1) Fitzgerald (v); Paul Smith (p); Jim Hall (g); Wilfred Middlebrooks (b; Gus Johnson (d). Deutschlandhalle, Berlin, 13 February 1960.
(2) Paul Smith (p); Barney Kessel (g); Joe Mondragon (b); Alvin Stoller (d). Hollywood Bowl, 15 August 1956. 
(3) Louis Armstrong (v, t); Trummy Young (tb); Billy Kyle (p); Dale Jones (b); Barrett Deems (d). Hollywood Bowl, 15 August 1956. 
20th Century Masterworks 170066