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Unearthing A Lost Ella Fitzgerald Recording, 60 Years Later
Recorded in 1962 at Sportpalast Arena in Berlin, the never-before-heard set features the First Lady of Song in her prime—and now, it will be available for all to hear on Oct. 2 via Verve Records
It was like a scene out of an Indiana Jones film: Ken Druker, the Vice President of Catalogue at Verve Records, and Gregg Field, the veteran drummer and producer, were about to play a dusty recording of the indelible First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, that hadn’t been heard, seen or even opened in almost 60 years. "The information written on it certainly wasn’t complete, so it was kind of a crapshoot of what was on it," says Druker of the tedious process. "But the tape was in very good shape and when we listened to it we recognized immediately it was an incredible performance. It was very exciting."
Exactly what Druker and Field stumbled upon was a complete live set of Fitzgerald in her prime performing in 1962 at Sportpalast Arena in Berlin, Germany with the same band as her GRAMMY-winning classic album Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife, which snagged the prize for Best Female Vocal Performance (Single) and the Best Vocal Performance, Female (Album) at the third-ever GRAMMY Awards in 1961. Explains Druker of the monumental find: "The mono recording sounded good, but when we came across the stereo version of the same show we knew for sure it was something that needed to be released."
The result, out Oct. 2 on Verve Records, is appropriately dubbed The Lost Berlin Tapes and is a rare, never-before-heard release courtesy one of America’s greatest voices traversing through bouncy renditions of both her hallmark tracks ("Mack the Knife" and "Check to Cheek") and otherwise rare covers (including a version of Ray Charles’ hit "Hallelujah I Love Her So," swapping "him" for "her").
"There are those nights when you can count on one hand that everything is working on such a high level and this was one of those nights," explains Field who played drums for Fitzgerald in the mid-'80s and serves as a co-producer of the Lost Berlin Tapes endeavour. "She was coming off this big success and you couldn't pick a better year in terms of her age and developed abilities. Here she is with maximum knowledge and ability to execute what she wanted to do. Not only that, but everyone is in a great mood too. All of those things contributed to a much more interesting, compelling performance than the 1960 record that she won the GRAMMY for, which is iconic in itself."
How exactly this particular concert never saw the light of day until the 21st century is a mystery lost to the ages, but Field has some ideas. Formerly in the collection of Ella’s famed manager Norman Granz who founded Verve with the specific mission to release Fitzgerald, the tapes entered a limbo state when Granz later founded Pablo Records in 1973 and sold Verve to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. "We're guessing that when Verve was sold, he took a lot of these tapes with him. Since Verve could have claimed ownership, it could have contributed to why they never came out."
The tapes then sat quietly in Granz's collection for decades, Fitzgerald died in 1996 and Granz passed in 2001, and they were essentially forgotten. That is until a nudge last year from Richard D. Rosman, a caretaker of the Fitzgerald estate, pointed Druker and Field in the direction of the treasure. "We’ll never know what we don’t find," says Druker of the tricky business of lost recordings, some which have the very real ability of disappearing forever. (See: The 2008 fire at Universal Studios during which countless master recordings went ablaze.) "There are some recordings that we know happened but we never found them, so we’re lucky when we do come across these things. When we dig them up, we’re very fortunate."
The quality of The Lost Berlin Tapes is also bolstered by a state-of-the-art technology created by the software company iZotope called RX 8 Music Rebalance. "This technology did not exist a year ago and they called me by chance (just as I was looking into the tapes)," says Field, who used the technology to separate the original stereo mix into a four-track drum, bass, piano and vocal recording. "On the original tape, Ella’s voice was a little thin in the mid-range and the piano and drums were panned hard left and hard right, which is very old school. I was able to bring her more forward and brought up the bottom so you can even hear fingers on the strings. The result is that Ella's much more in the room with you. When I sent it to Ken, he said, 'This is the best live recording of Ella I've ever heard.'"
For Field, who became so close to Ella that she even serenaded him with "Happy Birthday" when he turned 30, it’s both her talent and humanity that’s on full display on the unearthed recording. "Ella was two people. She was very humble, very shy and generous. But when she walked on stage she was hardcore and didn’t know how to sing unless it was coming from her heart," Field explains. "She had a great sense of her audience and made you feel like you were in on all the fun that we were having. She was able to get rid of the walls between her and the audience. That showed in her music, and this set."
8 Music Books To Read This Fall/Winter: Britney Spears' Memoir, Paul McCartney's Lyrics & More
As 2023 nears its end and the holidays approach, add these books to your reading list. Memoirs from Dolly Parton and Sly Stone, as well as histories of titans such as Ella Fitzgerald are sure to add music to the latter half of the year.
If you’re a music fan looking to restock your library with some new reads, you’re in luck. With the second half of the year comes a dearth of new music books recounting the life and times of some of the most celebrated artists in the history of the artform are hitting shelves.
From Britney Spears' much talked-about memoir that tackles the tabloid tumult of her life and Barbra Streisand’s highly anticipated autobiography (which clocks in at nearly 1,000 pages), to tomes that recount the lives of Tupac Shakur and Dolly Parton, it’s time to get reading. Read on for some of the best music-related new and upcoming books to add to your collection.
By Britney Spears
One of the most highly anticipated books of the year, Spears' memoir has been a blockbuster in the weeks since its release. When it was announced that the singer was writing a book, fans and observers braced themselves for what she would reveal when it comes to her tumultuous life and career. The result is a no-holds-barred look at how an innocent girl from Louisiana became swept up in the tsunami of fame, as well as the resulting wake.
The Woman in Me details Spears' halcyon younger years as part of the "New Mickey Mouse Club," her explosive career, the blossoming and collapse of her relationship with Justin Timberlake, and the punishing conservatorship concocted by her father. Spears doesn’t hold back, but also shouts out the figures who provided solace and kindness: Madonna, Elton John, Mariah Carey, and former Jive Records president Clive Calder. The Woman In Me proves to be an unflinching, eye-opening look at the swirling tornado of music, fame, love and family, for better or for worse.
By Barbra Streisand
Since her early '60s breakout to her current status as a bona fide living legend, Barbra Streisand has lived a lot of life. Streisand's 992-page tome breaks down her humble beginnings growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and her subsequent stratospheric life during which she received a whopping 46 GRAMMY nominations and released many timeless songs. Along the way, she also became the first female in the history of moviemaking to write, produce, direct and star in a major motion picture (Yentl).
It’s all a long time coming, considering Jackie Onassis first approached Streisand to chronicle her triumphant life in 1984 (at the time, the former first lady was editor of Doubleday and Streisand was a mere 20 years into her iconic career). "Frankly, I thought at 42 I was too young, with much more work still to come," Striesand recently told Vanity Fair. It’s an understatement considering all that’s happened since.
By Paul McCartney
One of the most celebrated artists of all time, McCartney's genius songwriting is on full, glimmering display in THE LYRICS. Newly released in a one volume paperback edition, the book puts the Beatles' way with words front and center while offering popcorn-worthy backstory.
Originally published to acclaim in 2021, the updated version includes additional material and insight from Macca himself on the creation of some of the most indelible hits in music history, including the 1965 Beatles hit "Daytripper."
"The riff became one of our most well-known and you still often hear it played when you walk into guitar shops," wrote McCartney of the track. "It’s one of those songs that revolves around the riff. Some songs are hung onto a chord progression. Others, like this, are driven by the riff."
By Dolly Parton
"It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!" So says luminary Dolly Parton, in a self-deprecating and witty and also patently untrue famous turn of phrase. While Parton’s life story has been recounted numerous times on the page and on screen, Behind the Seams zeros in on not just her trials and tribulations, but her unmistakable style.
Packed with nearly 500 photographs, the book traces Parton’s looks from the sacks she used to dress in as a child in poverty to the flamboyant visuals associated with her stardom. "I’ve been at this so long, I’ve worn some of the most bizarre things," Parton recently told the Guardian. "My hairdos have always been so out there. At the time you think you look good, then you look back on it, like, what was I thinking?"
By Sly Stone
The 80-year-old reclusive frontman of Sly and the Family Stone has certainly lived a lot of life. From his early days as part of the gospel vocal group the Stewart Four, Stone and his family band later became fixtures of the charts from the late '60s into the mid-'70s; a journey traced in the new book Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), named after their 1969 song of the same name.
Known for funky, soulful and earworm signature hits including "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People," the band won over the hearts of America, influencing legions of fans (including Herbie Hanckock and Miles Davis) and gaining a few enemies (the Black Panther Party). The book chronicles those ups and downs (including drug abuse), tracking Stone up to the modern era, which includes receiving the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Special Merit Award in 2017.
By Judith Tick
Ella Fitzgerald is one of America’s most iconic voices and the full breadth of her story will be told in the first major biography since her death in 1996. Known as the First Lady of Song, the 13-time GRAMMY winner is known for her swingin’ standards, sultry ballads, scat and everything in between.
Out Nov. 21, the vocalist’s historic career is recounted by musicologist Judith Tick, who reflects on her legend using new research, fresh interviews and rare recordings. The result is a portrait of an undeniable talent and the obstacles she was up against, from her early days at the Apollo Theater to her passionate zeal for recording and performing up until her later years.
"Ella was two people," her longtime drummer Gregg Field told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "She was very humble, very shy and generous. But when she walked on stage she was hardcore and didn’t know how to sing unless it was coming from her heart."
By Jeff Tweedy
Aside from his extensive discography with Wilco and beyond, Jeff Tweedy is the author of three books: his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), a meditation on creativity called How to Write One Song, and his latest, World Within a Song. The latter expertly examines a variety of songs by a disparate spate of artists, from Rosalía to Billie Eilish with Tweedy’s singular take on what makes each song stand out along with what he dubs "Rememories," short blurbs that recount moments from his own life and times.
Much like his songwriting prowess, it’s a book where Tweedy’s way with words shine with shimmering eloquence. "My experience of my own emotions is that they all interact," Tweedy told GRAMMY.com last year. "They aren't individual, isolated things that you experience one at a time, and I think that's a really beautiful thing about being alive."
By Staci Robinson
One of the giants of hip-hop finally gets his due with an official recounting of his life and times. Here his legend is told by the authoritative Staci Robinson, an expert on the star who previously wrote Tupac Remembered: Bearing Witness to a Life and Legacy and served as executive producer of the FX documentary series "Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur."
Here, Robinson reflects on Tupac’s legacy from a modern perspective, and tracks the history of race in America alongside the rapper’s life and times, from the turbulent '60s to the Rodney King riots. Along the way are the stories behind the songs including "Brenda’s Got a Baby."
"In between shots (of filming the movie Juice) I wrote it," Shakur is quoted saying in Robinson’s book. "I was crying too. That’s how I knew everybody else would cry, ’cause I was crying.’"
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Meredith Truax
5 Artists Who Prove That The Great American Songbook Is Brilliantly Alive
For some, the Great American Songbook is irrelevant, consigned to a dusty corner of history. To others, including 2023 GRAMMY nominee Samara Joy, the Songbook's venerated tunes form a living document worthy of love and adaptation.
The Great American Songbook is an unquestionable bedrock of pop, rock and jazz. But these days, many seem ready to close it for good.
For the sake of argument, let's define it as a venerated patchwork of jazz standards, popular songs and showtunes from the former half of the 20th century; one prominent author supposes that it met its commercial Waterloo as the 1940s met the '50s.
After the rock 'n' roll revolution and the creative fireworks of the '60s, critics generally viewed Great American Songbook albums by pop and rock artists with a jaundiced eye. But jazz-influenced artists from Willie Nelson (1978's Stardust) to Dr. John (1989's In a Sentimental Mood) continued to embrace the form to transcendent effect.
The Songbook is one component of the jazz-standard repertoire; therein, showtunes mingle with instrumental classics by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, and other titans. In this sphere, which often prizes forging ahead over perceived inertia, the Songbook has haters.
A simple Google search for "reddit hate jazz standards" will reveal that peanut gallery — one ready to throw Songbook stalwarts such as "Come Rain or Come Shine" in the garbage. In 2021, jazz critic Phil Freeman set off a Jazz Twitter brushfire with this take: "F— standards. Ban them for 20 years, like a controlled burn in a forest, and see what sprouts in their place."
Freeman made that proclamation through the lens of predatory business practices — a very real problem throughout jazz history. But to any number of musicians themselves, the notion of getting rid of them altogether inspires horror.
"In order to say that, you have to be disconnected from Hollywood cinema, disconnected from the history of Broadway shows, disconnected from artists like Duke Ellington and Fats Waller," jazz vocalist Catherine Russell, who has been nominated for two GRAMMYs, tells GRAMMY.com. Her colleague Jo Lawry seconds this: "You're listening to the wrong people, or you're listening through the wrong ears."
In this regard, perhaps the ultimate “right” person to listen to is Samara Joy. Reared on Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, the young vocalist climbed the ranks partly via "The Today Show" appearances to become nominated for a golden gramophone for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
"I think the only reason [the Songbook's connotation is] negative is because that's where a lot of people stop when it comes to jazz," Joy tells GRAMMY.com. "It's like this is the greatest it's ever going to get, and that's not true."
Granted, the lion's share of Joy's catalog is standards; as far as youngsters are concerned, she's perhaps the leading light of the Great American Songbook. But her attitude on the Songbook is innately progressive. For her, they comprise a launchpad to new expressions.
And despite what John Coltrane and Nina Simone's famous deconstructions of the Great American Songbook might tell you, making standards fresh, vital and exciting doesn't require reinventing the wheel.
When Joy sings a 1927 chestnut like "Stardust", it, by definition, has never been done before — because it's her doing it. This applies to a spate of recent jazz releases, both archival and new.
While it’s impossible to address every talented jazz artist who weaves magic from extremely well-trod material, here are five releases from the past year — one archival, three new — that reinvigorate the Great American Songbook.
And they do so not through radical reinvention, but through sheer emotion, personality and intelligence.
Ella Fitzgerald's Hollywood Blues
Just before the pandemic, the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation tipped off Verve Records to some intriguing entries in the Concord vaults — dozens of previously unreleased tapes from the First Lady of Song.
The first to be unarchived was 2020's dynamite Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes. In 2022, Verve followed it up with the lavish Ella at the Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook.
"I never knew Ella had performed the arrangements from any Songbook album live," Ken Druker, the SVP of Jazz Development at Verve Records, tells GRAMMY.com. "And then I checked with all the extreme Ella nerds, and none of them had heard of it too."
Ella at the Hollywood Bowl documents the second half of a 1958 concert, while Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes tackles the Cole Porter songbook. Her vocal genius charges Berlin ballads like "You're Laughing at Me" and "How Deep is the Ocean" with emotional electricity.
When she kicks up the tempo, Fitzgerald is even more irresistible. You may have heard "Cheek to Cheek" and "Let's Face the Music and Dance" a trillion times, but when she belts it, any perceived corniness melts away. The heart jumps for joy.
Samara Joy. Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Samara Joy's Forward-Thinking Nostalgia
If you're wondering if the old standards still have any life in them, well, Recording Academy Membership thought so — more than 60 years since that Hollywood Bowl gig.
At the 2023 GRAMMYs, rising vocalist Samara Joy is nominated for a GRAMMY for Best New Artist alongside cutting-edge artists not only in jazz (the memeified DOMi & JD Beck), but in Brazilian pop (Anitta), genre-blending R&B (Omar Apollo) and hipster-adored indie (Wet Leg).
Her nomination arguably demonstrates that Joy is no relic of the days of yore.
Take some time with her 2022 album Linger Awhile, and you'll find she's more interested in the future than the past. Joy isn't afraid to go for well-worn material like "Someone to Watch Over Me," but she's also finding fresh corners of the Great American Songbook — like adding her own lyrics to Fats Navarro's trumpet solo on "Nostalgia," in a process called vocalese.
Ultimately, Joy maintains reverence for the Great American Songbook — it launched her career — but doesn't feel wholly beholden to it.
"OK, learn all of these standards. Is that the end of musical discovery?" she asks. "No, I have something to say too. I can use what I learned as far as harmony and form and interpretation from those standards to write my own songs."
Catherine Russell. Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Catherine Russell Makes It Last
Vocal master Catherine Russell exudes a powerful sense of ease and control with her instrument. It helps that she's part of a jazz lineage: the daughter of pianist, composer and arranger Luis Russell and bassist, guitarist and vocalist Carline Ray.
The music's clearly in Russell's DNA; it provides the glowing center of her 2022 album Send For Me. Regarding her version of "At the Swing Cats Ball," she said in a statement, "My mother had given me sheet music a long time ago, saying, 'your father co-wrote this tune, and Louis Jordan covered it.’"
On Send For Me, she returned to the well once more, immersing herself in material like "Did I Remember,’" "Blue and Sentimental" and "You Stepped Out of a Dream."
"The songs are reliable. They can be done in a variety of different ways," she says, her own crystalline vocals a statement in flexibility. "You can do them with a big band, with an orchestra. You can do them with just a piano and a vocal."
Jo Lawry. Photo: Erika Kapin
Jo Lawry Makes Courageous Bounds
In jazz, the trio format is innately thrilling because of the architecture of the thing: one player can summon some derring-do, make a daring leap, and it's incumbent on the next to catch them.
Vocalist Jo Lawry titled her next album Acrobats because she had to summon that gumption.
"The trio is the format that melodic players explore when they want to push themselves," she explains. "I wonder if motherhood has had a part to play as well. It has made me a tiny bit braver, and a bit less inclined to try to fulfill anyone else's picture of what I should be as a jazz singer."
On Acrobats, Lawry tackles mostly standards ("Taking a Chance On Love," "Takes Two to Tango," "I've Never Been in Love") with the dynamic bassist Linda May Han Oh and heavily swinging drummer Allison Miller.
The enchanting result is like a jolt to the solar plexus. Lawry's glasslike voice perforates any baggage or stuffiness accrued by these tunes. This is partly because Lawry is able to map out the material on her own emotions.
"With 'I've Never Been In Love Before,' I wanted to just get completely swept away in the lack of safety of love, and what it feels like to not be in control of your emotions anymore, and somebody else has your whole destiny in their hands," she says.
And as for the ongoing vitality of the Great American Songbook as a whole?
"The melody and the harmony and the lyrics are this holy trinity of art that works so economically and perfectly together," Lawry states. "It's not dependent on anything other than those three raw materials."
Amos Lee. Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Amos Lee Walks Into A Record, Lives In It
Interpreting the interpreter: it can be done, and done well. Bob Dylan did it with three Frank Sinatra-focused cover albums in a row — one of them a triple. And Amos Lee, who is also not a jazz singer, just did it with Chet Baker.
If you're unfamiliar with the Great American Songbook on a granular, lyric-by-lyric level, Baker's first vocal album, 1954's Chet Baker Sings, is a magnificent gateway.
Therein, a young Baker barely scats and uses very little vibrato. He delivers the lyrics to tunes like "That Old Feeling," "Like Someone in Love" and "My Ideal" plain as day, cracking open all the pain and euphoria and rumination and humor through zero ornamentation.
Chet Baker Sings came to singer/songwriter Amos Lee during the nadir of the pandemic. "I was drawn to the aching and the tenderness," he reflected in a statement. "To the way it expressed sadness with levity, to the way it explored sorrow without becoming beleaguered by the depths of it."
Lee's resulting 2022 album My Ideal: A Tribute To Chet Baker Sings works because Lee never puts on airs as his equal, or successor; he simply loves this probing, innovative jazz classic so much that he wants to see what it's like to be Chet for a moment.
That record date, all those decades ago, rings forth brilliantly into 2023. Why? To borrow a phrase: “It's all about the tunes, man.”
Photo: Courtesy of Judy Whitmore
ReImagined: Judy Whitmore Dazzles With A Classic Interpretation Of Frank Sinatra And Count Basie's "The Best Is Yet To Come"
Judy Whitmore introduces fans to the music she grew up with in this jazzy full-orchestra performance of "The Best is Yet to Come" — a song that was made famous by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, and won a GRAMMY thanks to Ella Fitzgerald.
An American standard originally composed in 1959, "The Best is Yet to Come" has been recorded by an array of vocal greats, including Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé, Bob Dylan, and Ella Fitzgerald — the latter of whom won a GRAMMY for her rendition in 1984. But it's most closely associated with Frank Sinatra, who recorded it with jazz pianist Count Basie for their 1964 album, It Might As Well Be Swing. In fact, the song was so important to Sinatra that its titular lyric is carved into his tombstone.
In this episode of ReImagined, vocalist and cabaret-style performer Judy Whitmore delivers a faithful, buoyant rendition of "The Best is Yet to Come." A full orchestra performs behind her, including horns, jazzy drums, a sweeping string section, and a grand piano — creating a swinging performance that does Sinatra proud.
Whitmore's cover choice is no coincidence, as the singer has been inspired by American classics literally since birth — her namesake is legendary actor and musical performer Judy Garland. Like Garland before her, Whitmore has taken on a diverse and multifaceted career. She's a bonafide Renaissance woman, whose resume includes accomplishments as a theater producer, best-selling author and pilot, who also happens to have a Master's degree in clinical psychology.
Singing has been a lifelong passion for Whitmore, and she has several albums to show for it, including 2020's Can't We Be Friends. That project, which includes her spin on standards like "'s Wonderful," "It Had to Be You" and "Love is Here to Stay," is Whitmore's "love letter to The Great American Songbook," her website explains.
"This is the music I grew up with, and I don't want people to forget it," she details. "I think it's one of the most extraordinary bodies of work ever created."
Press play on the video above to watch Whitmore bring her love of American classics to her version of "The Best is Yet to Come," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of ReImagined.