[Album Review] Ella Fitzgerald | The Lost Berlin Tapes

Many I know like to knock jazz for being a little self indigent at times.  Well, Ella don’t play that.  She sings the standards direct and to the point with a simple quartet.  Her accompaniment is Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Stan Levey on drums.  That’s it.

So, if you’re looking for a place to dive in, The Lost Berlin Tapes is a great place to start.

Ella’s popularity soared after she released Ella in Berlin: Mack The Knife in 1960.  On that album, she has a brain-fart during Mack The Knife and improvised some lyrics on the spot.  The performance eared her two Grammys for Best Female Vocal Performance (Single) and the Best Vocal Performance, Female (Album) that year.

The concert for The Lost Berlin Tapes was recorded in 1962 in the same town, and I think it outdoes the 1960 show for a couple reasons.

First, is the quality of the recording is superb.  The only reason why it took this long to get this show published is it really was lost.  The recordings were only recently found in her long time manager’s garage.  It must have been dry and clean one because the album does not sound like it was keep away for almost 60 years.  That, or the folks who restored the recording deserve a heap of praise.

The other is this really shows off Ella’s humble spirit between songs and her powerful persona during them.

Again, she has a gaff during Mack The Knife.  Instead fumbling the lyrics, this time she couldn’t remember where she was for the town’s shout out during the song.  Check it out right here at the 2:55 spot:

She recovers before the end, but she won’t start the next song before she apologizes to the audience.  But I can tell you, no one in that crowd took offense.  They just witnessed a genuine live moment.

The setlist also helps her shine better.  Songs like Cheek to Cheek or I Won’t Dance, are excellent showcases for her talent and personality.  Both are not on Ella In Berlin.

Ella was best on stage and The Lost Berlin Tapes I believe captured her better than any other recording I have heard.  Even if you don’t like jazz I think you should check it out.  I know I used this verb in my last review but it fits here too.  Ella transcends the genre.




  1. Fitzgerald’s warm, yet ultra-cool voice was at the opposite pole of jazz singing from Armstrong’s gravelly growl. There’s absolutely no reason their voices should blend so effortlessly — but they do. This is FRESH AIR. We asked our classical music critic, Lloyd Schwartz, to recommend some music to listen to that feels right for this moment. He says the album that’s given him the most sheer pleasure in the last few years has been the set of all the songs Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded together, compiled to celebrate Ella’s 1h birthday and released in 2018. That’s when we first broadcast his review of the box set. Lloyd says with all the claims on our attention these days, it’s great to just sit back and take in the effortless joy of artists like Ella and Louis. We hope you agree.


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