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Listening Report: Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas Album, Verve/Acoustic Sounds Vinyl Reissue

Mark Smotroff discovers a holiday record he missed along the way…

When I learned about an Acoustic Sounds reissue of a 1960 Ella Fitzgerald Christmas album, I had to pause as I didn’t remember ever seeing this album before out in the wilds of record collecting. I mean you’d think that as much of a crate digger as I am, I would have come across this album out in record stores, thrift shops, garage sales, thrift shops or even a flea market. 

But, no, I was drawing a blank on this. 

Universal Music kindly sent me a review sample of Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas and as I was playing it I started poking around on Discogs — one of the premier record collecting marketplaces on the Internet — and got a sense of why I hadn’t seen it before. It is pretty rare (at least people are asking a lot of money for old original copies!).  At the time of this writing there were exactly seven original domestic (United States) Mono copies available, all priced ranging into the $100 range. There were zero original Stereo copies available. Poking around on Popsike, another popular record seller’s site, there seemed to be more but they consistently sell out quickly.

The point is: this is a not common and in demand album!

And playing it, I can hear why.

Unlike her later Christmas album, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas finds the legendary singer tackling tackling secular pop holiday tunes. She is in especially fine, fun and even frisky form here.

Many now-standards are there: “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” and “Sleigh Ride.”  But then there is this little sassy gem tucked away at the start of Side 2 called “Good Morning Blues” which finds Ella sounding as close to Sarah Vaughan’s style of delivery as I think I’ve heard. 

In part it helps that Ella is backed by a genuinely swinging orchestra led by none other than the great Frank DeVol (aka Happy Kyne from Martin Mull’s brilliant late 1970s mock talk show comedy, Fernwood Tonight).  Listen closely on “Winter Wonderland” to how sympathetic DeVol’s band is to Ella’s needs as a singer. It is one of those sweet instances where the band was very much in tune with the artist.

Somehow Ella convincingly swings lighthearted kiddie favorites like “Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty The Snowman.”  There is even some dark humor buried into the solo section of “Rudolph” as Ella improvises (I assume), vocalizing a twist on the 1800s-era murder ballad “Tom Dooley” — which was a #1 hit single for The Kingston Trio in 1958 — intoning “Hang your nose down Rudy, hang your nose and cry…”  

Point is, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas is a much hepper Christmas album than it might appear on the surface. And it is fun!

The sonics on this release are very nice. Obviously, I don’t have an original to compare it to but the mastering sounds sweet and rich. The 180-gram vinyl is thick, dark, dead quiet and perfectly centered — kudos to Quality Record Pressings for attention to these important details — and comes in an audiophile-grade inner-sleeve. So all those basics are checked off my list.

And the cover art is beautiful, I suspect much better than the original pressing — which from posts I see of it online — seems to have been a flat finish simple cardboard single-pocket design. This new Acoustic Sounds reissue is a full laminated cover gatefold with additional images in the inside which don’t appear to be on the original. 

Believe it or not, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas was the first Christmas record I’ve played this season. I think this definitely helped get me into the spirit of the season. Hopefully it will cheer up your celebrations as well. 

Happy Holidays everyone!

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