I would strongly recommend getting the boxset of "Songbooks". Not a dud in all of them. If you shop around, you can probably get a deal on a brand new box set for around $200. If you like Ella, the best $200 you will ever spend, I can assure you. Leave the cables and tweaks aside, spend your money where it will do the most good! Enjoy the tunes!
A fellow Audiogoner recommended "Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie" to me when I asked the same question. Wow! It's an amazing album, and extremely well recorded. Toe tapping from the first bar. I loved it so much I gave several copies for Christmas gifts.
I'd avoid the live recordings. There's nothing more annoying than the scattin' of Ella Fitzgerald.
Actually, I'd first pursue, if you haven't already, recordings of Dinah Washington, Abby Lincoln, Nancy Wilson, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Anita O'Day, Nina Simone, and Betty Carter.
Sorry to be so negative about Ella but I think she's simply way overrated.
The songbooks recommendation is an excellent one. I will to seek out Tvad's title also. "Take Love Easy" - Ella with Joe Pass, is one I found to match the description of what you're looking for.
What Pbb said.
The Ken Burns "whitman's sampler" isn't a bad overview either--not to mention cost-effective--but the Songbooks are worth every penny.
My Favorite Ella recordings are the ones she made with Satchmo and his band......... I agree with easy e too check out some of the other great female jazz singers from the 30's through the mid 60's. While I don't think Ella could ever be overrated there are some others who don't get the same attention in some circles.
PS dont forget Billie Holiday....... Songs for Distingue Lovers is one of my favorites and fits your small ensemble very well (the band swings so hard it's insane).
Hmm Tough call. If you only want CD format I would suggest the "Pure Ella" on Decca. What this is a reissue of the Ella Sings Gershiwn. Just her and piano. The cd has a couple of extra tracks. The reason you want to pick this up is that (word has it) GRP did the remastering and for whatever reason the tapes were destroyed in the process.
Of the songbook series I like the Harold Arlen the best. In my collection I have more of her than any others. But I like quite a few.
Without question, the two best Ella CDs available (particularly if you hate the orchestral backgrounds of the Songboooks) are "Pure Ella" (a 1950s classic, Ellis Larkin on piano as the only accompaniment) and the XRCD of the later Pablo session "Take Love Easy" with Joe Pass on guitar. Both offer exquisite sound and timeless performances. Another favorite of mine on LP is the Ellington small group Songbook-- don't know if that's made it to CD or not, but the LP sound is stunning.
As a major Ella fan, & owner of the above mentioned cd's.
The Verve Complete 16 mini-lp cd Songbooks box set is well worth the price to cover Ella's bests.
The 2 Xrcd's are very wonderful also.
As far as "Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie" is concerned the standard Verve cd is good.
However you must purchase the Classic Records gold cd re-issue, you will be blown away by this cd!!! As this is as close to analog as Ella gets on the compact disc format.
Porgy and Bess - Ella and Louis.
Just unbelievable in terms of performance and sonics - a true masterpiece.
Don't know if they're all on CD (probably not, but at least some of the Ella & Louis is), but my favorite Ella:
Ella & Louie on Verve
Ella & Louie Again, again on Verve
Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass on Pablo (any record is stunning)
Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington - Live at the Cote D'Azur (Verve)
My obscure Ella tip is: The soundtrack to "Let No Man Write My Epitaph" also on Verve. Her version of 'Black Coffee' on this gets me every time. Good listening,
Of the dozen or so Ella recordings that I have, my favorite is Ella in Rome: The 40th Birthday Concert. Oscar Peterson and Co. provide sublime accompaniment. The song selection gives Ella opportunity to display all of her musical attributes, and boy, does she deliver! My favorite song on this recording is "I Loves You Porgy". She takes the tempo very slowly and moves from her head voice to her chest voice so smoothly that it makes your head swoon. Such control! So, so beautiful.
I cannot believe nobody has even mentioned the live "Ella in Berlin." It contains a famous version of "Mack the Knife" where Ella forgets the lyrics and makes up new ones on the spot, and a death-defying scat on "How High the Moon." (Contrary to Easy_e, I love to hear her scatting.) Sound is not great and variable on the recent "complete" version, because it includes several tracks from less than pristine sources.
If you prefer the more intimate setting, you should be a bit careful with the Songbooks (I have all of them) which contain primarily big band arrangements.
Along with "Pure Ella", there was an album called "The Intimate Ella" which was also just voice and piano.
The first two Louis Armstrong collaborations are great. I've actually never heard the Porgy and Bess, but I think it has an orchestra (not sure). My favorite of the Joe Pass collaborations is the second, "Fitzgerald and Pass Again." By then (early/mid 70's) Ella's voice had begun a decline, but she made up for it with greater attention to lyrics.
By the way, I had trouble getting a clean vinyl pressing of the Pass/Fitzgerald album when it came out, and I wrote a letter complaining to Norman Granz. He sent back a handwritten apology and six copies of the album to make sure I found a good one.
Been out of town for a few days - nice to see all the responses that have arrived! I bought the "Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie" album mentioned and it truly is a great one. Might try the duo with Joe Pass next. BTW, I know the Songbooks are highly regarded, but the ones that I've sampled were too "Big Band" for me. Thanks for all the suggestions!