Ella Fitzgerald: Mack the Knife


Mack the Knife


Ella Fitzgerald (vocals)


Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife (Verve 825 670)

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Ella Fitzgerald (vocals), Paul Smith (piano), Jim Hall (guitar), Gus Johnson (drums),

Wilfred Middlebrooks (bass)


Composed by Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht & Marc Blitzstein


Recorded: Berlin, February 13, 1960


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

“Mack the Knife” is from Ella in Berlin, one of her finest live albums. It became one of her biggest sellers and won two Grammy Awards – one for “Best Album by a Female Singer” and the other for “Best Song by a Female Singer” for “Mack the Knife.” There is an exuberance and joy in this performance that is infectious and compelling, a side of Ella seldom displayed in the recording studio. Towards the end of the 1950s and in the early '60s, Ella was at the peak of her abilities, and the warm response of the 2,000-person crowd audibly lifts her into the zone. There is a powerful sense of swing in her vocal line, almost overwhelming in its power, yet part of the charm of the piece is when she forgets the lyrics and, completely unfazed, improvises new ones on the spot – a superb example of her thinking on her feet. Incidentally, she does not miss the opportunity of doing her impression of Louis Armstrong, for years a proven crowd pleaser. It gave audiences an indefinable feel-good factor that added significantly to her in-person charm, and it can still be felt, decades later, on compact disc.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson

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Related Links

The Legacy of Ella Fitzgerald by Ted Gioia
The Dozens: Twelve Essential Ella Fitzgerald Performances by Stuart Nicholson
”Ella Fitzgerald” by Stuart Nicholson (from The Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians)

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