WYSO

Ella 101: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Day 28 of 101)

May 22, 2018

No legendary musician's catalogue is complete without at least one winter holiday album, and Ella Fitzgerald's 1960 Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas is not only one of the classiest, well produced holiday albums the jazz genres has ever seen - one could also make a strong argument for it being the most fun LP Ella released in her entire career.

The brilliant Frank DeVol provided arranging and conducting duties, surrounding Ella with soft horns, a glowing vibraphone, and even (on some tracks) a small vocal chorus that actually manages to add fun to the proceedings without getting in the way or sounding cheesy - an extremely rare feat in jazz and pop.

DeVol worked with Ella on only a handful of albums, but each of their pairings ranks among her finest, jazziest, most subtle and atmospheric studio records. DeVol had a great knack for not just crafting arrangements that were good for singers' voices, but creating a complete musical environment for the singer to inhabit. He had a canny sense of drama, and knew how to establish a mood or vibe and then find creative ways to fulfill it over the course of an entire album working in concert with the singer.

He does a typically find job of that on Swinging Christmas, with producer Norman Granz supplying an intimate, glossiness to the sound that still sounds fresh nearly 60 years later. Equally suited to holiday cocktail parties or snuggling by the Christmas tree with a bottle of wine, the unfortunately brief record (the extended version with bonus tracks and alternate takes clocks in just under 40 minutes; the original LP is closer to 30), no Ella fan or holiday music lover's collection is complete without this classic.

The serene vibraphone sounds that decorate some of the album's tracks are missing on this one (savvy DeVol knew that this arrangement was solid enough without them, and they would've made it feel cluttered), but you'll hear them down the line when we visit another song from this session.

Ella 101 is a daily look at 101 essential recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, who was born 101 years ago this month. Tune in to Equinox, Monday nights from 8 - 11 p.m. on WYSO, to hear Ella and more great jazz with host Duante Beddingfield.