Ella - The lost Berlin Tapes

Hidden away for decades, the 2020 Ella Fitzgerald archival release Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes showcases the singer in an ebullient live performance in Germany in 1962. The concert was recorded on March 25, 1962, in Berlin’s Sportpalast Arena, two years after her classic 1960 concert albums Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin and Ella Returns to Berlin. The main reason for the tapes to have gone unheard for so long was primarily due to Fitzgerald‘s manager and Verve label owner Norman Granz having left the label by the time they were recorded. Subsequently, they ended up languishing in Granz‘s private archive for over 50 years. As on her other Berlin concert albums, Fitzgerald is joined here by her trio with pianist Paul Smith, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks, and drummer Stan Levey. The original Ella in Berlin concert was made famous by Fitzgerald‘s rendition of “Mack the Knife,” in which she forgot the lyrics and deftly improvised her own to uproarious effect — something she was known to do periodically throughout her career. On the Lost Berlin Tapes, Fitzgerald again tackles the Threepenny Opera standard, diving into the song with her characteristically diamond-tipped vocal prowess. Performed at a briskly swinging pace and punctuated by a humorous aside to the earlier Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong versions, this “Mack the Knife” is fairly definitive, besting both the Ella in Berlin and Ella Returns to Berlin versions in sheer virtuosity. Equally thrilling performances follow, including rousing takes on “My Kind of Boy,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Mr. Paganini,” and more. While the focus of any Fitzgerald concert is her voice, her trio supplies enthusiastic and nuanced support throughout with Smith offering a small jazz ensemble’s worth of riffs to frame her vocals. With the discovery of Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes, fans now have a triumvirate of stellar live German concerts from Fitzgerald, each one showcasing just how immensely dazzling and quick-witted she could be.