30 November 2012

Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas

Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas A Quick, Good Little Time.
By Kristin Battestella

It’s tough to introduce this 1967 traditional Christmas album because surely it should carry a few words of introduction for its songstress Ella Fitzgerald, too. However, how does one go about introducing Ella Fitzgerald- doesn’t everyone already know who she is? They dang well should, and the uninitiated can most definitely receive his or her education with this swift December disc.

O Holy Night opens Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas on a nice and easy note indicative of the album’s overall tone.  Ella keeps this often too lofty for the rest of us carol soft and calm for a pleasant candlelit night. The track, however, is just too short. Unfortunately, the entire album also comes in too fast at under a half an hour.  It Came Upon a Midnight Clear is the longest tune here and yet it isn’t enough. I want to hear Ella’s nice and innocent brand on this less and less often heard carol for all the verses! Thankfully, Hark the Herald Angels Sing continues the casual reverence and able to sing a long feeling of Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas. This is not a flippant album or a set rushed in the respectfulness, oh no. By contrast, it’s quite time-honored and old-fashioned proper, and yet Ella keeps the notes family friendly rather than formal.

Away in a Manger slows the session down and allows time for Ella’s perfect range.  The sound is big and yet still childlike and full of seasonal sentiment while Joy to the World mixes Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas up a bit by adding a choir and a fresh arrangement. It’s already a happy, catchy carol and you can’t help but echo in with Ella!  It’s surprising; however, that The First Noel is kept so down low when it could have been a lot bigger for a songstress such as Ella.  Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas is quiet and peaceful, perfect for a holiday dinner party, yes. But nonetheless, this album is really only an introductory hint of the octaves Ella Fitzgerald is capable of singing. These shorter tracks may allow for seemingly more songs- 13 in total- but it isn’t enough. I want more! More! 1:40? That’s only a sample!

Thankfully, we almost hear all of Ella for Silent Night. This longer session is slow and delicate as this Christmas Eve carol requires, and yet, Ella somehow jazzes it up a bit by accentuating all the special notes with a spiritual quiver. This tune is perhaps the best track on Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas in terms of showing Ella’s vocal abilities. My favorite carol O Come All Ye Faithful also receives a few big notes from Ella along with church bells and a going caroling family mood.  Although I haven’t heard Sleep, My Little Jesus before Ella, there’s great sway in this soft lullaby. She lingers on each note in a wonderful musical whisper and takes a moment of pause to go deeper into the Reason for the Season.

After all the soft and sweet, Angels We Have Heard on High kicks Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas up an octave. Her longwinded notes and big sounds are like a one-woman choir.  All Ella’s might and yet, it’s all still so gentle on the ears- as if we’re not supposed to wake the baby in the manger!  Oh Little Town of Bethlehem also plays soft and good, almost like a ballad from a musical. The way Ella accentuates the verses resonates with the power of Broadway but still feels delicate enough for the country church. It sounds disrespectful in describing it, but Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas is all-good in a good way!

After all of the family friendly somber, We Three Kings gets unexpectedly hip. Instead of the usual, brooding medieval arrangement, there’s a swanky reverence, almost a rock out twist.  You want to shake your hips, get up, and come along with the wise men as God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen continues the catchy trend. There’s a perfectly Ella rat a tat tat spin, and even though this was a largely quiet and mellow album, Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas ends on a snappy high note.

Obviously, there’s not a secular tune in sight for Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas despite the laid back, soft and sophisticated neutral pleasure here. Families looking for a more casual holiday should enjoy the 1960 Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas title instead for more seasonally big notes.  Family audiences new and old, longtime Ella fans, or scat newcomers can enjoy the traditional Christmas collection here thanks to the mellow reverence for complete audience balance and appreciation.  Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas is deliberate and old school classy but refined enough for today’s playlist- with the proof found in multiple download editions and an out of stock wait on Amazon. Now if only it wasn’t so short!

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