Monday, December 7, 2009

A Great Archaeological Find: Twelve Nights In Hollywood In 1961

Pardon me from one last nostalgic KV 1950-60 era musical break.
I like to search archives for interesting historical stuff related to KV and the LES but a great musical find was made recently. I listened to many of the tracks on Jonathan Scwartz's show yesterday. The above isn't one of them, but it's among Ella's best recordings and one of the best songs ever written. an excerpt from the nytimes of 11/29/09
Intimate Ella Fitzgerald, Rediscovered, By FRED KAPLAN
WITH all the multi-disc jazz boxes that have come out in recent years — the complete Miles Davis on Columbia, the complete Charlie Parker on Savoy, the complete Duke Ellington on RCA and so on — it’s hard to believe that any significant tapes by any major musician might still be languishing undiscovered in a record company’s archives.
Yet Verve has just released “Twelve Nights in Hollywood,” a four-CD boxed set of Ella Fitzgerald singing 76 songs at the Crescendo, a small jazz club in Los Angeles, in 1961 and ’62 — and none of it has ever been released until now.
These aren’t bootlegs; the CDs were mastered from the original tapes, which were produced by Norman Granz, Verve’s founder and Fitzgerald’s longtime manager.
They capture the singer in her peak years, and at top form: more relaxed, swinging and adventurous, across a wider span of rhythms and moods, than on the dozens of other albums that hit the bins in her lifetime.
Richard Seidel, the producer of the boxed set, first heard the tapes early this year. He was driving to Massachusetts from his home in New Jersey and brought along some rough CD transfers to play in the car.
“I was feeling kind of down that day,” he recalled, “and the more I listened, I could not help but start to smile. I’ve worked on dozens of Ella projects over the years, but there was something different about this one — the sheer rhythmic joy she projects, the endlessly inventive improvising.”
There’s nothing rare about a joyous Ella Fitzgerald recording; the woman exuded joy in nearly every note she sang. Yet the level on these sessions soared higher and plumbed deeper.
Gary Giddins, the veteran critic and author of “Jazz,” agrees. “This ranks on the top shelf of her live recordings,” he said. “It’s about as good as it gets.”
Why these tapes stayed locked in the vault for nearly half a century — and what it took to set them free — is a tale of a producer’s neglect, a jazz sleuth’s obsession and a string of happy coincidences.
The 1961 Crescendo gig, which took place from May 11 to 21 (with one night off), was booked as an afterthought to begin with, a time filler between a European tour that Fitzgerald and her quartet had begun in February and a monthlong stay at the Basin Street East in New York that June.
Granz took the unusual step of taping every set. But in the next year alone he and Fitzgerald recorded six studio albums, most of them with large orchestras, including two of her eight heavily promoted songbook albums, each devoted to standards by a prominent American composer.
In this context it’s not so surprising that the Crescendo tapes received short shrift. “My guess,” Mr. Seidel said in a phone interview, “would be that Norman Granz was just recording Ella so much at the time, and was probably focused much more on her big studio projects.”
Granz did pull 12 tracks from the roughly 14 hours of material recorded at the Crescendo and released them that year as an LP called “Ella in Hollywood.” But the album didn’t do well, perhaps because it sounded so strange. In between the songs, for reasons now unknown, someone spliced in loud applause that had been recorded in a large concert hall, making the whole album seem artificial. (The Crescendo was a nightclub of 200 seats.)
Whatever the reasons for the flat reviews and scant sales, the executives of Verve — which Granz had sold to MGM in 1960 — put the Crescendo tapes in the vault, where they were forgotten for the next 27 years.
Then, in 1988, Phil Schaap, a dogged jazz scholar well known for excavating long-lost treasures from studio archives, was contracted by PolyGram (which had recently bought Verve) to compile a discography of all the recordings — issued and unissued — that Fitzgerald ever made for the label.
Early on in the task, riffling through PolyGram’s vast tape facility, then in Edison, N.J., Mr. Schaap unearthed the never-released tapes of a 40th-birthday concert that Fitzgerald recorded at the Teatro Sistina in Rome on April 25, 1958. He urged PolyGram’s executives to release them. When they did, as an album called “Ella in Rome,” on the concert’s 30th anniversary, it soared to No. 1 on Billboard’s jazz chart. Stephen Holden, in The New York Times, hailed it as “a treasure for the ages.”
It was soon after this triumph that Mr. Schaap came across the tapes from the Crescendo Club — not just the tracks that Granz had picked for “Ella in Hollywood,” which was long out of print, but the other reels, which nobody had unspooled for nearly three decades.
Mr. Schaap listened to all of them and thought that here was another trove of hidden jewels.

the 4 cd set is available here

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