With Riddle Nelson orchestra
Recorded November 1961 & April 1962
In 1961 Ella Fitzgerald recorded two albums with Nelson Riddle's Orchestra. Her voice was in peak form and, even if the backup band was somewhat anonymous, Fitzgerald uplifted the 15 songs on this set; "All of Me" was from a different obscure sampler and "Call Me Darling" was previously unissued. Although the accent is on ballads, several of the songs are taken at medium tempos and she swings throughout. Highlights include "Georgia on My Mind," "The Very Thought of You," "It's a Pity to Say Goodnight," "Darn That Dream," "Body and Soul" and a cooking "All of Me."
All Music Guide
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Reissuing Ella Swings Gently with Nelson
Nearly three years after their historic 1959 LP collaboration on Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, Ella Fitzgerald and Nelson Riddle reunited in the Verve studios for two new albums. Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson found them in a bubbly uptempo groove with a collection of standards that were like old friends to both of them. Ella Swings Gently with Nelson placed a similar handful of songs in a dreamier setting, but the key word was still swings - something Fitzgerald and Riddle could do at any tempo.
These recordings came at a time when the Songbooks had brought Fitzgerald a massive popular audience. In the previous five years she had devoted no less than seventeen LPs to Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hart. These projects called for her to learn dozens of complicated show tunes on short notice - so she found it a relief to swing gently with an easy, familiar repertoire. As she told Leonard Feather in the New York Post "I think my manager, Norman Granz, has realized now that in order to sing and enjoy yourself, once in a while you have to get back in that old bag."
If it is possible to say that this enduring singer had a peak, then these albums capture it. Her voice had grown warmer, riper, and more womanly than ever while still superbly capable of meeting every demand she placed on it.
But Ella Swings Gently proves that Fitzgerald's skills went far beyond technique. For an artist whose ability with words has often been questioned, it is important to note that she sings with unfailing honesty and warmth, that every syllable is crystal clear, and that her phrasing always honors the song, no matter how she improvises. Listen to the last halfchorus of "Georgia on My Mind", which she sings with all the yearning those words demand, even as she takes some of her most ingenious melodic flights.
Like "Georgia", most of this program harks back to the Thirties and Forties - a mood enhanced by Riddle's danceband-style charts. But while the brass predominated in Ella Swings Brightly, here the strings take over, inspiring Fitzgerald to some of her most wistful singing on record. She delivers the first choruses of "I Can't Get Started" and "Imagination" almost as written, treating those tender words in a way that leaves her supremacy as a ballad singer unquestioned. In the final measures of "Street of Dreams", her departures from the melody never rob the key words of the emphasis they need.
The pleasures of Ella Swings Gently don't end with the original thirteen tracks, for Verve has unearthed two extra performances that stand among the best Fitzgerald on record. "Call Me Darling" finds her in an uncommonly seductive mood, with a ballad that she and Peggy Lee favored at the time. And "All of Me" is vintage uptempo Ella, with a jubilant scat chorus of the type that she could produce with spontaneous ease. It was previ ously issued only on an obscure album entitled All-Star Festival: A United Nations Unique Record to Aid the World's Refugees.
John S. Wilson wrote of this album in the February 28, 1963 down beat:
[Ella] the ballad singer is really dominant.... She imbues these songs with a warm, lyrical quality that comes to a great extent from her knowing manner of phrasing. Her remarkable voice, of course, is at the root of it, but it is how she uses that voice that gives these songs their quality.
Nor should it be overlooked that Riddle's big-band accompaniment is, wonder of wonders, strong without being obtrusive - something one rarely hears these days but which was commonplace among the swing bands when Miss Fitzgerald was growing up musically.
Here, then, is the side of Ella Fitzgerald that the jazz pundits have been all too quick to dismiss. When she and Nelson Riddle take it sweet and slow, a ballad couldn't ask for a more loving touch.
- James Gavin