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.
Duke Ellington's concert at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival lacked the excitement and adventure of his appearances in 1956 and 1958. Ellington and his orchestra played their usual program of standards and features with the 14-and-a-half-minute "Idiom '59" being introduced…
This was the first real attempt by Columbia to make any comprehensive sense of Miles Davis' colossal output for the label. This set, then, was bound to be controversial no matter how it turned out, but even so, Columbia could have done better with a strictly chronological approach. Instead producer/compiler Jeff Rosen had the cockeyed notion of organizing each of the original five LPs around a single theme.
Back in 1958, Jazz at the Plaza was never meant to be a record; it was a Columbia party at the Plaza, a place jazz had never been played before. Also on the bill were Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Jimmy Rushing. Despite the fine remastering job done by the Sony crew, Jazz at the Plaza remains more a curiosity piece than an essential recording by a remarkable band, strictly because of its dodgy recording quality. The 40-minute set is plagued by the problem of barely being able to hear Davis in places, particularly on the stellar opener, "If I Were a Bell," and Evans is all but absent on much of the record.
The Olympia concert of March 1960 is clearly a historically important recording. No fan of Trane or Miles should be without it (and Miles soloes extremely well too, eg on All of You). You cannot get a performance like this on a studio recording - to use a trite phrase, "you had to have been there". Listening to this fierce recording is as close as we can come now to "being there".