|Personnel: Chick Webb & His Orchestra, Ellis Larkins, Louis Armstrong.
|The four-disc Ella Fitzgerald box set released by Proper is one of the most complete assessments of her early career, with 100 songs taking listeners from her debut with the orchestra of Chick Webb in 1935 all the way to the end of her Decca contract in 1952. (As fans will know, this set says nothing about the wonderful things she was about to accomplish with the Verve label in the '50s and '60s.) During her Webb and Decca years, Ella performed a mixture of light novelties and sturdy standards (or soon-to-be standards), with the dreaded novelties ("A-Tisket, A-Tasket," "Stone Cold Dead in the Market [He Had It Coming]") usually paying the way for the songs she liked to sing (and her fans liked to hear). Although her prewar and postwar period is often maligned, or unfairly compared to her later standard of excellence, Ella (like Billie Holiday) was able to spin gold -- or at least silver -- out of nearly everything she recorded. An added bonus is Decca's pairing of her with their other stars of the period, like Louis Armstrong, the Ink Spots, and Louis Jordan. ~ John Bush