Ella 101: Whisper Not (Day 15 of 101)

May 9, 2018

On July 20, 1966, Ella Fitzgerald recorded an entire album, her final studio session for Verve Records. Whisper Not, named for saxophonist Benny Golson's hard bop ballad written ten years prior, is a classy, if mostly subdued, outing which placed Ella before the Marty Paich Orchestra, with Paich handling arranging and conducting duties, and a rhythm section of Jimmy Rowles (p), Joe Mondragon (b), and Shelley Manne (d).

The title cut fits Ella like hand in glove, giving her an easy groove to ride and plenty of blue notes to bend to her whim, yielding one of her sexiest and most self-assured recordings. The midsection breaks into real hard bop mode, with Ella's voice sounding like a horn solo. She mostly leaves the melody behind until the final chorus, weaving magic with the "shout chorus" section. Leonard Feather's excellent lyrics serve her well, and her longtime producer/manager Norman Granz engineered this into one of her best sounding albums, making full use of stereophonic capabilities and dividing some instruments into the left channel and others into the right (with Ella at the front in both channels) to create a you-are-here sound.

Ella would release one more album on Verve (a live set with Duke Ellington on the French Riviera recorded over the course of that summer; we'll visit that later on), and then would flounder among multiple labels as the remainder of her peak voice years waned--though by no means did that render her down for the count.

Ella 101 is a daily look at 101 essential recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, who was born 101 years ago this month. Tune in to Equinox, Monday nights from 8 - 11 p.m. on WYSO, to hear Ella and more great jazz with host Duante Beddingfield.