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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.

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