Throughout her long and prolific career, Ella Fitzgerald recorded comparatively few Christmas songs. A quick look at her vast discography reveals that Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, a full-length album that she cut for Verve in 1960, is her most satisfying seasonal offering. Like Dean Martin's A Winter Romance, this is not exactly a traditional Yuletide record, although the song selection definitely includes more straight-ahead Christmas songs than Dino's Capitol classic. The anonymous original liner notes of the album actually underscore this fact:
Mindful that Christmas albums normally emphasize the religious and the solemn, Ella chose in this to stress the festive aspect of the season; hence the latitude employed in the selection of material. As if to ask: Why not the peace and good will of Christmas the year 'round?
And, as the title of the collection suggests, Ella's Christmas is not only merry and cheerful but also swinging. This is so, in part, because of Frank DeVol's hip yet unobtrusive arrangements, which help Ella sound as cool as it is possible in this type of album. But it is also due to Fitzgerald's love for this kind of material: she is obviously having a good time with these tunes, often improvising on the melodies, which results in a much more enjoyable finished product. The best example of this is, in fact, the most surprising choice, Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing's "Good Morning Blues," a song that one usually does not find in a seasonal album but that somehow seems tailor-made for Ella's swinging Christmas theme. The rest of the repertoire is much more predictable, including evergreens such as "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," and of course, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." But DeVol's jazzy charts are a breath of fresh air, and they certainly bring out the best in Ella, whose voice is in the finest of forms. Even the vocal group used on some of the tracks does not sound stale and annoying but is a welcome addition to the arrangement.
|Arranger Frank DeVol|
|Cover of the 2002 second CD reissue|