Ella Fitzgerald “Live At Montreux 1969”

ella fitzgerald

Sometimes the best gifts come after the holidays.

Case in point? On January 20th, Mercury Studios, a recording outfit that “develops, produces and distributes award-winning and world-class musical content” will be releasing Ella Fitzgerald: Live at Montreux 1969 for the masses. Formerly only on DVD, it will now be available on audio formats.

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) needs no introduction. “The Queen of Jazz” brought us her astounding vocal skills for over 65 years. She was revered for her tight, clean phrasing and wide range of emotion and tone. Above all, Ella’s best-known gift was her “scatting” – the use of her vocals for things other than lyrics. Through her inspired use of nonsense syllables and noises that replicated brass instruments, “Lady Ella” became a one-woman band.

Live at Montreux (available via streaming or CD) is the crisp, ear-pleasing presentation of Fitzgerald’s first performance at the legendary Montreux (Switzerland) Jazz Festival in 1969. It is an hour of pure sustained cool jazz singing and warm audience banter. Ably supported by the Tommy Flanagan Trio, Ella and the band meld superbly as they deliver classic tunes along with hits specific to the era. There is not a musical misfire to be found.

Fitzgerald’s set begins with a bouncy ruffle of percussion, bass, and keyboards as she serves up her trademark bright vocals with “Give Me the Simple Life,” a joyous ode to keeping life unfettered. When she sings “Some take the high road, I like the low road,” every listener will be wanting to take a similar route. It’s an infectious, engaging introduction.

This boppy beginning segues into “This Girl’s In Love With You,” a ballad filled with honeyed tones and quiet melancholy, along with some relatable asides to the audience.

“I Won’t Dance” is an uptempo number filled with sweet rebellion and a challenging wink. She makes it swing, then takes down the tone in her next number, “A Place for Lovers,” the lilting theme to the 1968 movie of the same name, starring Marcelo Mastroianni and Faye Dunaway. (For the record, the tune was infinitely better than the squirm-fest of a movie.)

Picking up the pace with the stellar timing for which she is known, her next number is “That Old Black Magic,” the delicious finger-snapping classic that Ella renders to perfection with her range of masterful vocals, speedy delivery, and full-on mojo. When she sings, “I’m lovin’ the spin I’m in,” make no mistake – everyone listening is loving it, too.

She cools out next with some bossa nova as she croons “Useless Landscape,” a smooth number that provides a relaxing break in the proceedings. She then takes on Duke Ellington’s “I Love You Madly” with such verve that when she sings “I love you madly, right or wrong” one can only feel that if it is wrong, we don’t want to be right.

Another highlight in an album full of them is “Well, Alright, Okay, You Win,” a Count Basie earworm that Ella takes on with the trio’s tight instrumentals and her own funky cool.

Live at Montreux has a classic feel that will delight any existing Ella fan and accumulate many new ones. She had a smooth relatability that transcends time. That said, there is a definite “1969”-ness to Live at Montreux with some of its era-specific selections. She takes on the theme to the movie “A Man and a Woman,” Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” all hits of the late 1960s that she jazzes up with her unique, elegant treatment.

Live at Montreux is brought to a close with seven penultimate minutes of a “Scat Medley” that is nothing short of mind-bending vocal virtuosity. Her lustrous performance concludes with “A House is Not a Home,” an aching testament to the bleakness of living in a house after a loved one abandons it.

Rowdy applause to Mercury Studios for making available this long-ago joy of a live performance. Ella Fitzgerald: Live at Montreux 1969 is a celebration of Fitzgerald’s unique artistry and ineffable charisma.

-Ellen Fagan

Photo: Ella Fitzgerald (William P. Gottlieb via Wikimedia Commons)


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Ellen Fagan is a forever New Yorker, long-time Greenwich Village resident and vintage Duke University graduate with hippie-esque leanings. The best description of Ellen was given to her by a sardonic lawyer during the voir dire of one of her myriad Jury Duty stints: "...housewife, mom, voracious reader, freelance writer, copy editor, jewelry designer and frequent cyber-sleuth."

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