Ella The Lost Berlin Tapes  An Extraordinary Document!

This March 25, 1962 recording of Ella Fitzgerald performing live at Berlin’s Sportpalast is remarkable for several reasons, starting with the then 44 year old’s exuberant, high energy performance backed by the trio of Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Stan Levey on drums.

Fitzgerald’s closely miked, unadorned vocals are powerful, playful and models of phrasing perfection. She makes it sound easy, which of course it could not have been—especially since she often performed two hour-long shows on a single night in two different cities.

The trio provides spacious, elegant beds—equally well-phrased—over which she soars, swoops and delivers a set of mostly joyful tunes. You could spend more than a few spins listening just to Smith’s swinging backing (and you should).

Fitzgerald had the previous year released Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie! (Verve V6-4053) a similarly vibed audiophile favorite backed by a small combo. She covers from that album “Jersey Bounce”, “Cry Me A River” and “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!” along with many other “American Songbook” tracks—some well-known and some lesser so. She tips a figurative hat to Ray Charles on a rousing “Hallelujah I Love Him So” and ends the show with two favorites: “Mr. Paganini”, which she first recorded in 1936 and of course, “Mack the Knife”, her “hit” from her live album Ella In Berlin: Mack the Knife (Verve MG 4041) that earned her two Grammys at the 3rd annual Grammys—despite the fact that she’d forgotten the lyrics and had to improvise. She had no such trouble on this recording (though she did forget where she was) and her high energy, spirited performance is one of the album’s many highlights as is her surprising blues-soaked finale “Wee Baby Blues” in which she improvises it all—lyrics and blues.

Two other reasons why this album is remarkable: one of which is that the stereo recording is absolutely spectacular (the 1960 recording was mono only). According to Ella’s ‘80s era drummer Gregg Field (in an New Mexico NPR interview) who mixed the album, “It was sitting in a vault all of these years. When we were handed the tape box, it still had the yellow scotch tape that hadn’t been opened.”

If they were able to mix the album, it must have been a 3 track master tape. It sure sounds that transparent and “you are there” quality. And from the credits it appears that Ryan K. Smith cut it from a digital source. If that stops you from owning this on the double record set pressed at GZ Media on standard weight vinyl, your loss!

The final reason why this is a remarkable document is consider the date: 1962. Twenty years earlier America was at war with Germany trying to defeat Hitler. Twenty years earlier in the same Sportpalast arena that could hold upwards of 14,000 people, Joseph Goebbels delivered his “Total War” speech to a select audience of Nazi supporters. And here’s Ella singing and swinging twenty years later to an adoring audience in the same hall that had been seriously damaged during the war (it was demolished in 1973). Remarkable, indeed.

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ravenacustic's picture

I heard a remarkable concert in 1970 at the Valley Forge Music Fair. Doc Severenson and the NBC Band played 2/3 of the concert and Ella and the Oscar Peterson Trio accompanied her for the other third. A once in a lifetime event all the way around. I am listening to the reviewed recording on an MQA Tidal. Wonderful. When live recordings are done right they can be exhilarating.

PeterPani's picture

since it is cut from digital I am pretty sure there will be a reissue coming from AP or MFSL direct from the analog source. I would love to get this one on R2R-UltraTape...

Michael Fremer's picture
it's a 3 track tape that was mixed down to hi-res. We don't know if there were issues with the old tape best handled in the digital domain. An AAA reissue would require a new mix or a live mix cut. We don't know if that's possible...
john75's picture

I don't think an AAA version will be released:

"The quality of The Lost Berlin Tapes is also bolstered by a state-of-the-art technology created by the software company iZotope called RX 8 Music Rebalance. "This technology did not exist a year ago and they called me by chance (just as I was looking into the tapes)," says Field, who used the technology to separate the original stereo mix into a four-track drum, bass, piano and vocal recording. "On the original tape, Ella’s voice was a little thin in the mid-range and the piano and drums were panned hard left and hard right, which is very old school. I was able to bring her more forward and brought up the bottom so you can even hear fingers on the strings. The result is that Ella's much more in the room with you. When I sent it to Ken, he said, 'This is the best live recording of Ella I've ever heard.'"


PeterPani's picture

You never can be sure. Sad experienxe shows that many times technically driven engineers and sound experts think they have to improve something. But many times the soul of the original surpasses all the technical "improvements". They should sell an audiophile box (since most of the vinyl buyers will be audiophiles anyway) with analog records with analog mastering (also in analog mastering a bit can be done for improvements) and the digitally enhanced records, too.

Eskisi's picture

Since there are few notes much past 7kHz, whatever compression they use does no harm. Very enjoyable. And next to free.

infohou's picture

I’m with Peter on this.

Folks have become too accepting of ADA (analog recording, digital master, analog playback such as LP or tape).

Vote with your wallet for AAA.

volvic's picture

I ordered it from Acoustic Sounds and was shipped the same day. Eagerly waiting for it. Something long lost and forgotten from an iconic artist, especially one as great as Ella, that is newly discovered is cause for celebration not dismissed because three letters are not what we'd like them to be. I am going to enjoy it, sit back and be taken to that concert hall in Berlin and wish I was there.

Telekom's picture

I’m really excited to read about this. A new recording that sounds fresh would be wonderful. My CD copy of “Clap Hands” has the disc missing for some reason, and it makes me sad! I will happily order this LP to fill that gap. Ella singing “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” or “The Music Goes Round And Round” can either immerse me in melancholy or make me ridiculously cheerful, respectively.

volunteer's picture

My high-end equipment days are behind me. I no longer have any components that surpass the low 4 figures. That being said I've only played the first record once. I was not blown away with the sound of Ella's voice on Side A. Her voice sounds thin to my old ears. Side B was better. I hope my initial impression is wrong.

volvic's picture

I found the performance and the sound very worth the outlay. Her vocals and the piano and drums are sensational. I really enjoyed it. The only gripe I have is that I do wish Verve would include proper sleeves and not those awful paper ones. 10!!!!!!!

palasr's picture

Don't be too quick to poo poo this because of its digital provenance. The performance is absolutely stellar, and the sound quality is very very good, without a trace of digititis. Excellent pressing quality as well.

dbrown's picture

It's mono (despite the fact that the record label says "stereo") and it sounds digital -- really. I don't think Mikey actually listened to it...

I bought mine from amazon who allow returns and free shipping and it was $25 versus $29 from Music Direct or Acoustic Sounds.