Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Swings Lightly

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  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this original Bow Tie Verve Stereo pressing is going to be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Lovely All Tube sound from 1958, with a huge, rich orchestra conducted by one of our favorite arrangers, Marty Paich 
  • Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo – these were the days when Ella was on top of the world
  • “The bright, sunny optimism of Fitzgerald’s style comes through in several tracks, including ‘If I Were a Bell’ (which also includes several remarkable variations on the melody), and ‘Teardrops From My Eyes’ (which alternates between rock and jazz beats—not a big leap back then!)”

When you are lucky enough to find an album chock full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

The recording is excellent, with space and midrange richness that might just take your breath away.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep Paich’s orchestral arrangements from becoming congested, hard or shrill) did best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

We know a fair bit about Ella’s recordings at this point. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums, and that’s not counting the sixteen (yes, 16!) titles we put in our Hall of Shame.

We’ve searched high and low for her records and played them by the score over the years. We plan to keep great copies on the site for our Ella fans so watch for new arrivals in the Vocal section.

What the best sides have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1958. The richness of the sound of this pressing is what earned it such high sonic grades
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all ten of the instruments of Marty’s famous Dek-Tette having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • There’s more — isn’t there always — but we hope that should be enough for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we describe above

Skip the Mono

Like other albums from the ’50s, this one is much more common in mono than stereo, and, somewhat surprisingly, actually has two more songs per side. We found the sound of the mono pressings we played seriously wanting, with way too much compressor distortion when Marty Paich’s band gets going — or should we say tries to get going, because the constricted sound won’t let the band open up and swing the way it wants to.

We’re glad to say that this is a problem the best stereo copies did not have. The mono can be rich and full-bodied; on a mid-fi system, it would probably sound just fine, because mid-fi stereos are rarely any good at projecting huge, three-dimensional, life-size images of a musical group this large.

On today’s modern stereos it leaves a lot to be desired, and for that reason, we say Skip the Mono.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Little White Lies 
You Hit The Spot 
Just You Just Me 
As Long As I Live 
Teardrops From My Eyes 
Moonlight On The Ganges

Side Two

My Kinda Love 
Blues In The Night 
If I Were A Bell 
Little Jazz 
You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me 
Knock Me A Kiss

Jazz History Online

[This review may be long but it is excellent and well worth the time of true Ella fans.]

In the mid-1950s, Ella Fitzgerald entered a period of simultaneous artistic growth and enormous popularity. As she approached her 40th birthday, the chestiness of her voice gave way to a clear, bell-like tone. While she had never studied music theory, her intuitive harmonic sense had developed to a stunning degree, and her scat solos, both on records and on television, showed a remarkable growth in ideas and conception. Her manager, Norman Granz, had wanted to record her since the early 50s, but Decca held a long-standing contract with the singer, and they seemed unwilling to lose her from their roster.

When Granz finally wrestled Fitzgerald away from Decca, he created Verve Records to feature her. The “Song Book” series, a group of deluxe double-record sets featuring Fitzgerald singing the music of great Tin Pan Alley composers, was only part of Granz’ approach. He also showcased her as the premier jazz vocalist of the day, recording her with Louis Armstrong, Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson, and with ensembles led by arrangers like Nelson Riddle, Russ Garcia and Frank DeVol. However, one of the finest collaborations between Fitzgerald and an arranger was her album, “Ella Swings Lightly”.

On this album, Fitzgerald is paired with the Marty Paich Dek-tette, a ten-piece studio ensemble rooted in the cool jazz sounds of the Miles Davis Nonet and the Gerry Mulligan Tentette. Originally assembled as a one-off ensemble for an album with Mel Tormé, the dek-tette was later re-formed due to popular demand from musicians and audiences alike.

The dek-tette featured a brass quintet (2 trumpets, trombone, French horn and tuba) and a trio of saxophonists (who all doubled on a variety of woodwinds) set over a rhythm section of bass and drums.

Paich maintained the cool sound by keeping the trumpets in the middle register, writing melodic lines for the tuba, and excluding piano and guitar from the rhythm section. His settings featured warm mixtures of instrumental sounds and a laid-back approach to rhythm. Balancing the strength of a big band with the flexibility of a small combo, the Dek-tette was a great backing group for both jazz vocalists and instrumentalists. Paich’s arrangements were usually created in collaboration with the featured artists, but Paich had only had one or two meetings with Fitzgerald before recording “Ella Swings Lightly”. However, the settings came easily, given Paich’s long-time admiration of the vocalist. Fitzgerald’s only concern was singing without a piano, so Lou Levy was brought in for the sessions. The rest of the Dek-tette included several of Paich’s first-call men, including Bud Shank, Don Fagerquist, Bob Enevoldsen, Bill Holman, Joe Mondragon and Mel Lewis.

The album was recorded over two days in November 1958. An astounding 21 takes have been issued from this session, with 16 of them included on the original LP. While various writers have tried to pigeonhole “Ella Swings Lightly” into being a concept album featuring music of the 30s and 40s, it is really just a collection of pop songs presented without any unifying theme.

As the album title implies, the style is relaxed and the arrangements allow Fitzgerald plenty of room for improvisation. Her main scat feature is on Roy Eldridge’s “Little Jazz”, of which two different takes survive. Fitzgerald scats just under two choruses on each take (with a surprise modulation occurring before the second chorus). The solos are radically different, proving that Fitzgerald was creating on the spot, and not singing a memorized solo. Her melodic invention is quite extraordinary, and the only reason for the second take was that she misread part of the arrangement.

“Just You, Just Me” is taken at a fast pace, but the tempo does not inhibit Fitzgerald or the Dek-tette—they remain in complete control as they produce rapid-fire variations and include an extended quote from the Coleman Hawkins’ tune, “Spotlite”. Fitzgerald caresses the Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler standard “As Long As I Live”, offering a classic interpretation, and her version of Arlen’s “Blues in the Night” presents the song in a single medium-slow tempo. She sings behind the beat throughout the latter track, and her understated, sultry delivery and subtle variations show that she could sing the blues with as much conviction as anyone. The bright, sunny optimism of Fitzgerald’s style comes through in several tracks, including Frank Loesser’s “If I Were a Bell” (which also includes several remarkable variations on the melody), and “Teardrops From My Eyes” (which alternates between rock and jazz beats—not a big leap back then!).

However, the best track may be “You Hit the Spot”. Fitzgerald and Paich take this undistinguished catalog song and imbue it with fresh and lively approach. Fitzgerald sings the tune with a breezy confidence, and Paich’s arrangement features short ensemble punches that are like delicious morsels of chocolate. After solos by Shank and Enevoldsen, there is an upward modulation, and Fitzgerald sings a wonderful variation on the melody, and another modulation pushes her to ecstatic heights.

Because the Marty Paich Dek-tette usually appeared in support of other artists, its importance has been overlooked in jazz history. More than anyone else, Paich kept cool jazz alive long after his contemporaries (including Shorty Rogers and Gerry Mulligan) had abandoned the style. (Ironically, the final appearance of the classic Dek-tette appeared on Ella Fitzgerald’s 1966 album “Whisper Not”, where they backed her on a swinging version of “Time After Time”. In the late 1980s, Paich re-formed the Dek-tette for two reunion albums with Mel Tormé.) For Tormé, Jeri Southern, Sammy Davis, Jr. and the Hi-Lo’s, their albums with Paich and the Dek-tette represented some of their finest recordings. “Ella Swings Lightly” doesn’t qualify as Fitzgerald’s all-time best album, but it is certainly a highlight from an extraordinary part of her career.

Thomas Cunniffe

Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.