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Ella Fitzgerald; Ella at Zardi's. Never before released, a swingin' September with the great Ella Fitzgerald and her trio.

The enchanting archival live album, Ella at Zardi's, finds legendary jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald in concert at the famed Los Angeles club Zardi's in February of 1956. No random session, the Zardi's show was captured in the wake of producer Norman Granz founding his then-newly minted label Verve Records for the sole purpose of recording Fitzgerald. While the singer had long been under Granz's management, in his estimation she had languished at Decca, suffering under the label's choice of average songs and poor promotion. In moving Fitzgerald to Verve, Granz sought to showcase her virtuosic talent on record much in the same way that he had with the vibrant Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts since the mid-'40s. The move worked, and historically, the Verve years marked Fitzgerald's most fertile period, when she transformed from a popular vocalist into a creatively influential and commercially successful jazz icon. While all of her talent is on display here, the charm of the album is just how intimate, low-key, and seemingly off-the-cuff everything sounds. Backing Fitzgerald with urbane sensitivity is pianist Don Abney, bassist Vernon Alley, and drummer Frank Capp. Interestingly, barring the singer's own swaggering vocal improvs, there isn't any soloing from her band. Clearly, Granz wanted the spotlight to remain firmly centered on his star performer. The result is a breezy cabaret vibe with Fitzgerald fielding requests from the audibly enthusiastic audience. Included are many of her most well-known songbook standards at that point, including such standouts as "Tenderly," "How High the Moon," and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." She even offers up an exuberantly swinging reading of her signature 1938 original hit "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," dedicating the song to her co-writer Van Alexander, who was in attendance that night. No doubt there may have been other celebrities at the club that night (Marilyn Monroe was a famous Fitzgerald-champion during the '50s). Ultimately, it's just those kinds of personal touches, matched with Fitzgerald's dazzling vocal skills, that make Ella at Zardi's such a magical experience. (allmusic.com)