10 Best Ella Fitzgerald Songs of All Time (2023)

Ella Fitzgerald was an incredible singer who proved that singers can be just as virtuosic as instrumentalists. She had a fantastic range and was especially known for her immaculate intonation and scat solos. 

When she was just 17, she won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, which caught the attention of bandleader Benny Goodman who gave her some gigs fronting his orchestra and his friend Chick Webb’s orchestra. This helped launch her career, and by the late ’50s and early ’60s, she was the major female jazz singer. She even collaborated with legends like Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Carlos Jobim, Joe Pass, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington.

Though Fitzgerald passed away from diabetes in 1996, her amazing career spanned most of her 79 years. She is widely studied and revered as one of the finest singers in pop and jazz. 

In fact, Jazz at Lincoln Center is even having a weekend-long celebration of her life! To give you a taste of her incredible talent, here are 10 of her best tracks.

10. “But Not for Me”

Another great song by Ella is “But Not for Me,” which was featured on her 1950 album, Ella Sings Gershwin. It’s a really sad and lonely song from the Gershwin’s 1930 musical Girl Crazy. The pared-down arrangement of just Ella and a piano really captures the mournful feeling of the song, and you can even hear her breath and lilting vibrato.

9. “Bewitched”

“Bewitched” was featured on Ella’s 1956 album, Ella Sings The Rodgers & Hart Songbook. This song is from the 1940 musical Pal Joey, and Ella really makes it her own by starting with the rarely-sung introduction and adding in some lesser-known verses.

8. “East of the Sun (West of the Moon)”

“East of the Sun (West of the Moon)” was recorded in 1958 for Ella’s album, Sings Sweet Songs for Swingers. The Frank De Vol orchestra and legendary trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison provide a tasteful and exciting arrangement that perfectly complements Ella’s relaxed and controlled delivery. Her improvisation during the second “A” section of the song is pure magic, and the outro builds to a sublime finale.

7. “Darn That Dream”

Recorded in the early 1960s, “Darn That Dream” features Fitzgerald at her peak. The intricate arrangement by Nelson Riddle and his orchestra supports Fitzgerald’s controlled and nuanced delivery. This track is a great example of why she was known as The First Lady of Song.

6. “Lady is the Tramp”

This lively and fun track is a rare recording of Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra performing together. It was recorded live as part of a special DVD collection of Sinatra’s TV specials. The chemistry between these two legends is palpable, and the swinging horn arrangement adds to the party atmosphere.

5. “Mack The Knife”

If you’re a jazz enthusiast, you may have heard of “Mack the Knife” from Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife and Lady Time albums. It’s a pretty unique song with a catchy beat, but here’s the twist – it’s about a cold-blooded killer! Not your everyday topic for a song, but trust us, Ella Fitzgerald nailed it.

What makes the song stand out is how effortlessly Ella makes you forget that it’s about a serial killer. She makes it sound so normal to sing about it. The tune has been covered by many artists, but Ella made it her own. Her vocals are so strong that she keeps up with the beat changes and orchestral swells that give it a big band sound.

One thing that showcases her professionalism is when she forgets the lyrics during a performance, but she keeps going without missing a beat. Not many artists can improvise like that and still remain professional. Ella’s singing is top-notch, and she even imitates Louis Armstrong and scats a bit in the song.

4. “Easy Living”

In this later recording from a duet album with jazz guitarist Joe Pass, Fitzgerald’s voice has aged slightly, but her delivery is more mature than ever. Her interpretation of “Easy Living” is full of wisdom and adventure, and her range and phrasing are still impressive. Pass’s accompaniment is sensitive and responsive, taking the track to new heights. Fitzgerald truly earns the title of The Queen of Jazz.

3. “How High the Moon”

For a showcase of Fitzgerald’s scatting skills, look no further than “How High the Moon.” She sings it up-tempo and launches into her own fun lyrics and vocal solo, impressively incorporating Charlie Parker’s intricate bebop melody “Ornithology” into her scat solo. It’s clear that Fitzgerald’s encyclopedic knowledge of melodies was born out of imitating the best instrumentalists of her day.

2. “Misty”

Next is “Misty,” a romantic song that Fitzgerald makes sound effortless with her smooth, cascading voice. Her creative reworking of the melody lines elevates the song’s lush harmonies, making her rendition the best by far.

1. “Airmail Special”

“Airmail Special” is a live recording from the 1957 Newport Jazz Fest. The song starts with a scat solo that highlights Fitzgerald’s virtuosity, but she takes it even further by inserting clever excerpts from other songs like “Jingle Bells” and “The Christmas Song.” Her ability to hop from different melodies and imitations with such precision and delivery is simply stunning. It’s no wonder Fitzgerald is known as The Queen of Jazz.


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