Sometime last spring, a friend of mine, who also happens to be a jazz vocalist and a talented music producer, told me that she owned the Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks on CD. I knew something magical was about to happen.
Hours of downloading later, my music library was populated with some of the most incredible swing music ever to grace the dance halls of New York. Ella Fitzgerald is a queen, y’all, and today we’re going to review some of my favorites among her lesser-known tunes.
Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:36, 152 BPM
This peppy Irving Berlin tune has some lovely modulations between major and minor sounds, and it has a sweet build up to a triumphant feel at the end. (I also get a private kick out of the fact that this song features a lady singing about a very dapper outfit indeed.)
While searching for this song on YouTube, I ran across this Polish tribute to Ella Fitzgerald for her 100th birthday. The big band sounds great, and I love the vocalist’s outfit!
Things Are Looking Up, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:35, 135 BPM
I’ll be honest, the band here sounds good, but they aren’t swinging quite as hard as some other dancing tunes. However, the lyrics are so bright and pretty, and the tone is so upbeat given the slower tempo, that I love having this song around to pick up an empty dance floor.
In A Mellow Tone, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:50, 133 BPM
Hey Mister Jesse recommended this album, Ella at Zardi’s, when it was released last year, and I like it a lot! This particular version of “In A Mellow Tone” features some dope scatting, and solid swinging rhythm from a piano-bass-drums trio.
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie, 3:21, 159 BPM
The saxophones and trumpet provide great accompaniment to this foot-patting song. The rhythm is super tight and easily audible, so it’s easy to dance to. (Thanks, Basie!)
Drop Me Off In Harlem, Ella Fitzgerald, 3:51, 118 BPM
This song was originally written by Duke Ellington, so it has all the swanky swing it can handle, while moving along at a tempo perfect for beginners or a late night. Before Ella comes on, it opens with some really wonderful trumpet and trombone solos.
The Lady Is A Tramp, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:45, 168 BPM
When you need an alternative to Frank Sinatra, I love this upbeat rendition of the popular tune “The Lady Is A Tramp.” The lyrics are clearly audible and so much fun, and the bass and horns thump along in grand style.
I Got Rhythm, Ella Fitzgerald, 2:23, 144 BPM
If I were ever cool enough to teach a solo jazz class, this is definitely a song I would use. It has consistently placed stops in the first few phrases that still have a light rhythm section going, which helps students to keep time. And it’s also a great choice for the dance floor!
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Ella Fitzgerald, 5:02, 84 BPM
Okay, this one isn’t strictly a Lindy Hop tune. But truly, if you ever need to warm up a blues floor, I can’t imagine anything sweeter than this crooner. The soft hi hat in the background keeps the beat, while Ella’s voice floats along and the piano adds some texture and rhythmic interest.