Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas is a charming, warmly humorous – and yes, swinging – set of classic Christmas tunes. The program is familiar, from bouncy singalongs like "Jingle Bells" to slinky ballads like a downright sexy "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," but Fitzgerald treats each song with exactly as much respect as it deserves…
During the late '50s, Ella Fitzgerald continued her Song Book records with Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book, releasing a series of albums featuring 59 songs written by George and Ira Gershwin. Those songs, plus alternate takes, were combined on a four-disc box set, Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book, in 1998. These performances are easily among Fitzgerald's very best, and for any serious fan, this is the ideal place to acquire the recordings, since the sound and presentation are equally classy and impressive.
An appearance in Hollywood for a first-rate jazz vocalist was not necessarily an opportunity to broadcast your visage and pander to everyone from Tacoma to Tallahassee. It could also include a date at the Crescendo, the Sunset Strip's best chance to find premier jazz. Gene Norman's nightclub hosted dozens of jazz legends (and a comic or two), and produced more than its share of excellent LPs recorded on location. Better even than Mel Tormé's 1954 classic, the Ella Fitzgerald LP that resulted from her May 1961 appearances generated one of the best (and certainly most underrated) live records in her discography – and almost 50 years later, it became a four-CD set compiling ten days' worth of performances.
This two-CD set (a reissue of an earlier two-LP set plus six previously unreleased numbers) brings back a memorable Carnegie Hall concert that both features and pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. The great singer is joined on a few numbers by a Chick Webb reunion band that has a few of the original members (plus an uncredited Panama Francis on drums). Although the musicians do not get much solo space (why wasn't trumpeter Taft Jordan featured?), the music is pleasing. Fitzgerald performs three exquisite duets with pianist Ellis Larkins and then sits out while the Jazz at the Philharmonic All-Stars romp on a few jams and a ballad medley. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge's emotional flights take honors, although tenorman Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and trombonist Al Grey are also in good form. Fitzgerald comes out for the second half of the show and sings 14 numbers with guitarist Joe Pass (including a pair of tender duets) and the Tommy Flanagan trio.