Ella Fitzgerald: St. Louis Blues


St. Louis Blues


Ella Fitzgerald (vocals)


Ella in Rome: The Birthday Concert (Verve 835 454)

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Ella Fitzgerald (vocals), Lou Levy (piano), Max Bennett (bass), Gus Johnson (drums).

Composed by W.C. Handy


Recorded: Rome, April 25, 1958


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

While the majority of Ella’s discography was recorded in the studio, live recordings provide the most vivid studies of her art. In front of an audience with just piano, bass and drums, she came alive; it was what she lived for, and where the essence of her art was to be found. There is probably no finer example of this than her performance of “St. Louis Blues,” recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at the Teatro Sistina in Rome. Part of a concert that lay undiscovered in Polygram’s vaults until it was released for the first time in 1988, it is memorable not only because Ella is in superb voice but also because the backing trio of Lou Levy, Max Bennett and Gus Johnson had, through regular performance, become a superbly cohesive unit. “St. Louis Blues” actually opened the concert that night, a stunning virtuoso tour-de-force whose whirlwind tempo, intensity and length (almost six minutes) could easily have been used to climax her set, rather than open it! The melodic construction of her scat singing is exemplary (including the aside “People are wondering what I’m singing. Believe it or not it’s ‘St. Louis Blues’”). This track ranks among the finest examples of vocal jazz, as Lou Levy reflected in 1990: “It was just great! So much spirit and drive on it. You could never get it if you went into the studio. If you tried in the studio it would be one chance in a million.”

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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