Ella Fitzgerald's "The Lost Berlin Tapes" restores a vanished slice of time.
Fitzgerald on March 25, 1962, performed at West Berlin's ancient Sportpalast as part of her producer Norman Ganz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Europe.
Ganz recorded the concert on reel-to-reel tapes, but they were lost for years until recently rediscovered in the archives of Verve Records, which Ganz founded to produce albums by Fitzgerald.
The recently released "Lost Berlin Tapes" album comes from Ganz's recordings, digitally remastered with high-tech software.
The recording captures one performance in an exhaustive European tour that also featured trumpeter Roy Eldridge and legendary saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, according to Stuart Nicholson's liner notes. Fitzgerald's trio, pianist and leader Paul Smith, bass player Wildred Middlebrooks and drummer Stan Levey, would play before Fitzgerald came out for an hour-long grand finale.
Under Ganz's punishing schedule, the musicians often gave a performance at one city beginning at 6 p.m., then traveled hundreds of miles to another city for a midnight show.
As the "Lost Tapes" reflects, Fitzgerald generated energy from the relentless pace. She's ebullient, witty and effervescent in interacting with the Berlin audience, which responds with thunderous applause after each number.
Built in 1907 as a hockey arena, and the site of speeches by Hitler and Goebbels, the 14,000-seat arena had been retrofitted for musical concerts. In a place where rock groups would later blast the walls with electric instruments, Fitzgerald captured her fans with an acoustic trio, a microphone and her fabulous voice. The arena was demolished in 1973, nearly 20 years before the end of the Cold War.
As Nicholson notes, Fitzgerald's performance includes songs not in the American Songbook mainstream.
While she delivers dynamic interpretations of classics like Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," which she recorded with Louis Armstrong, the Gershwins' "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Summertime," and Jerome Kern's "I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me," she displays her virtuoso stylings on obscure numbers like "Jersey Bounce," "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie," and her signature novelty "Mr. Paganini."
She turns the unorthodox songs into stirring vehicles for her famous "scat" singing. Her voice swoops and soars with a range of innovative sounds, as if she's invented a new instrument.
In more straight-forward performances, she gives resonance to the haunting "Angel Eyes," the vibrant "C'est Magnifique" and the jaunty"Mack the Knife," a reprise of her hit record from a 1960 Berlin performance. In a nod to the rock generation, she swings on Ray Charles' "Hallelujah, I Love Him So."
The recording brings haunting historical echoes. The audience's rapturous applause made me wonder about their lives in the shadow of the recently built Berlin Wall.
Fitzgerald's voice is that of freedom.