Ella 100 (Verve 5745207)
Ella Fitzgerald’s reputation as a queen among jazz singers is certainly not predicated on her early work, when, while Billie Holiday was already spearing hearts, she was singing such frightful tosh as A-Tisket, A-Tasket. Of course this four-disc set celebrating the centenary of Fitzgerald’s birth includes some of the early stuff, although you can safely skip most of Disc 1. Her voice never completely lost the slightly husky girlish quality that helped define it, but it did darken, and her musicality and improvising skills surged into the stratosphere hand-in-hand with better material. You hear the real Ella emerge on 1949’s Black Coffee, and once into the 1950s her control of phrasing and tonal colour were supreme, while her scatting made most others’ attempts sound clueless.