Phil Schaap Jazz

Ella Fitzgerald's Berlin Rarities

Ella Fitzgerald’s ever-increasing prominence in Norman Granz’ Jazz At The Philharmonic – a touring jam session in concert form – and the tremendous success of the albums he produced with her once Granz was able to switch her to his own Verve Records from Decca in 1956, brought to them an opportunity to enlarge her stardom and their income. In 1958, Granz extended the bookings of Ella Fitzgerald as the headline attraction, separate from JATP. The centerpiece to these bookings was international touring. Although this was Granz’ most successful and lucrative live performance promotion and despite the fact that the foundation to his successful record business had been live recording, Granz’ late 1950s recordings of “The First Lady Of Song” were almost entirely studio productions. This oddity goes little noticed. And the reason that few dwell on it is that Ella’s biggest hit album of the Lp era – Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin – followed quickly. This live recording garnered Grammys and led to many subsequent albums’ being recorded live, many of which denoted Ella’s globetrotting displays. There is some backstory to this triumph and subsequent developments. Ella Fitzgerald’s ability to be distinctive and flexible even when performing her more typical repertoire was an essential part of her Jazz genius.Granz not only appreciated this but loved it. Still, it created a desire in him to have her be freer - at least some of the time. There is a live set that Granz recorded at Mister Kelly’s in Chicago where Norman instructs Ella to be completely impromptu. At least on that occasion, “The First Lady Of Song” couldn’t do it. She even mispronounces impromptu as “improm-toe”; though the misstep allows a certain type of foreshadowing to “Mack The Knife”. “Ella Live at Mister Kelly’s” was finally issued in 2007, but back in 1958 Norman Granz rejected the recording for issue. Granz, nevertheless, retained his strong desire to present genuine and wondrous ad-libbing by Ella on Verve Records. On Saturday, February 13, 1960, Granz saw and heard what he had been hoping for. In concert before 12,000 people in {then West} Berlin’s Deutschlandhalle, Ella Fitzgerald struggled with Marc Blitzstein’s English lyrics to Kurt Weill’s “Mack The Knife”. Converting extreme difficulty into a jam session that went on and on, replete with her successfully poking fun at the situation and faking her own lyrics, The First Lady Of Song created a masterpiece, and an ad-libbed one at that. Now Norman Granz had seen and heard the Ella Fitzgerald record that he wanted to make…but he hadn’t recorded it! Granz had, however, allowed West Germany Radio (WDR) to record the event for broadcasting purposes. Their tape provided the safety net that allowed Granz and Verve Records to catch Ella Fitzgerald’s impromptu moment and keep it forever. Norman Granz brought the tape back to the USA and prepared it for issue. There were stellar performances of many tunes before she sang “Mack The Knife”. And the concert didn’t stop with the Weill-Blitzstein hit from “The Three Penny Opera”, but continued and concluded with a rousing “How High The Moon’. To use a modern turn of phrase: it was all good. Verve quickly released Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin, and Fitzgerald won the Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance for an album.  Verve issued “Mack The Knife” as a single and Ella Fitzgerald won the Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance for a single.  In 1999, almost forty years later, the album Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin won another Grammy as it was elected into the National Academy of Arts and Recording Science’s Hall of Fame. Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin has stood and will withstand the test of time. As with the NARAS Hall of Fame, my own involvement with this masterpiece also came many years after its 1960 victories. In 1984, I began vault research, audio restoration, remastering, and album note-writing for what was then PolyGram, which owned the Verve catalogue. An early highlight to this endeavor was my discovering three (!) track stereo reels that contained Ella Fitzgerald in concert, in Rome, on her birthday, that resulted in the blockbuster Ella in Rome: The Birthday Concert released on what many presumed was her 70th birthday (she was actually turning 71) and leading to her triumphant return to performing. I also found a reel that Granz had brought back from Berlin in 1960. There were two extra songs from the famed February 13, 1960 Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin concert on that reel: “That Old Black Magic” and “Our Love Is Here To Stay”. They were the first tunes she sang that evening. Back in 1960, Lps had only so much playing time. Something needed to be cut and these two selections were left off the original release of Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin. By the 1980s and the advent of the CD, however, more material was desired, as CD releases could run a half hour longer than the albums of the Lp era. I alerted executives at PolyGram to my find. While pleased, they noted that at the dawn of the CD era, and with the Lp Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin being an all-time favorite, PolyGram had rushed to issue the album on CD – with no bonus tracks – and there was no hurry to pull this best-seller from the marketplace. Further, an additional discovery of the tapes (again supplied by West German Radio) of Ella’s subsequent concert in Berlin the following year placed another of my impending creations for PolyGram – it would released as Ella Returns To Berlin – on the front burner in those executives’ kitchen. Still, the idea of a Mack The Knife: The Complete Ella in Berlin was appealing to PolyGram and what made it even more attractive was another discovery of mine, one made outside the PolyGram vaults (which were then housed in Edison, New Jersey). I had both discovered and eventually obtained a copy of a 10” Lp edition of Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin. From the mid-1950s forward, Lps were almost always 12” in diameter. Yet this release, Verve (Dutch) 603, that came out contemporaneously with the original Lp in the States and, therefore, was from the top of the 1960s, was the smaller, arcane, 10” format. As a 10” Lp, it had fewer songs than the common release by Verve of Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin, yet it had two songs that were not on the 12” version; however, those two songs were not “That Old Black Magic” and “Our Love Is Here To Stay”. Verve (Dutch) 603, the 10” Lp I had (re)discovered, contains unreleased performances of “Love For Sale” and “Just One Of Those Things”. With this find, an expanded reissue of the classic album could now contain four bonus tracks. Some time elapsed, but I eventually got the go-ahead from Polygram and created Mack The Knife: The Complete Ella in Berlin, a CD on Verve under the catalogue number 314 519 564-2, released in 1993. It was well received. As it turned out, though, it was not a perfect reissue. I had been badly fooled by the Verve (Dutch) 603 release of Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin. That 10” Lp did contain two selections that were on not on the famous release of Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin, but those selections were not fromthat performance. “Love For Sale” and “Just One Of Those Things” had been recorded 3½ years earlier on August 15, 1956 and had been released – probably in late 1957 – on the double Lp set Jazz At The Hollywood Bowl. I should have noticed. Even though her rhythm section is not individually featured and even though the pianist at both concerts is Paul Smith, I should have heard the difference between the guitarists Barney Kessel (August 15, 1956 at the Hollywood Bowl) and Jim Hall (February 13, 1960 at Deutschlandhalle) or the difference between Alvin Stoller (8/15/56) and Gus Johnson (in Berlin) on drums. The great Peter Washington would have wanted me to notice the difference between Joe Mondragon (8/15/1956) and Wilfred Middlebrooks (in Berlin) on bass. I didn’t. I should have been cautious when no contemporaneous document or account mention the two extra tunes, “Love For Sale” and “Just One Of Those Things” as having been performed in Berlin on February 13, 1960. I wasn’t. Actually, I did have some suspicions. But in remastering for Mack the Knife: The Complete Ella in Berlin, “Love For Sale” and “Just One Of Those Things” – dubbed in from the 10” Lp – meshed so seamlessly with the bona fide material from Berlin, I lost any concern that the 2 selections from the 10” Dutch Verve 603 Lp might not be from the same event as “Mack The Knife” et al. I was wrong. I could point out that since Verve, albeit a distant subsidiary operation in Holland, issued the August 15, 1956 Jazz At The Hollywood Bowl material under the album title Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin, that (faux) material warranted being referenced and even included in a complete Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin. But that isn’t the way I issued the misrepresented “Love For Sale” and “Just One Of Those Things”. In 1993, when Mack The Knife: The Complete Ella in Berlin was released, I couldn’t have handled my production so properly because I wasn’t yet aware that Dutch Verve had falsely issued the August 15, 1956 Jazz At The Hollywood Bowl recordings of “Love For Sale” and “Just One Of Those Things” as being from the February 13, 1960 Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin. Dutch Verve did this (and the mistake might even be repeated on a Dutch Verve EP) even though the two songs had been accurately issued and, in 1960, were currently in print. That was Dutch Verve’s mistake. Repeating it was mine. And now at a distance of nearly twenty years, I’ll add that there is one more loose end. One of the attributes of Mack The Knife: The Complete Ella in Berlin on Verve CD 314 519 564-2 is the audio. The concert never sounded better. A key reason was my dismissal of the master tapes to Verve V6-4041, by 1984 the primary release of the original in that it was the only master still held by PolyGram’s Verve. But Verve V6-4041 was a pseudo-stereo release. There couldn’t have been a genuine stereo version because West German Radio (WDR), who recorded the concert, recorded it in mono! The real research and discovery in my producing Mack The Knife: The Complete Ella in Berlin wasn’t the discovery of the genuine two extra tunes – “That Old Black Magic” and “Our Love Is Here To Stay” – and it certainly wasn’t the (re) discovery of the Verve (Dutch) 603 with two extra tunes that weren’t from the concert. The real work was finding the best mono copies of all songs from the actual concert. So what’s the loose end? Jazz discographies still list a stereo issue of Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin from the top of the 1960s that was released under the Verve catalogue number MGVS 6163. I have never seen a copy of this album and can’t say for sure that it was ever issued. If it was, then I’ll bet that it’s a very early illustration of (UGH!) pseudo-stereo. But maybe I’ve made another mistake. I don’t think I have, but if MGVS 6163 does exist and is a genuine stereo recording of the famous originally released album, then bring it to me. It would be wonderful to work with this resplendent music one more time…and for the record.