Recorded in 1960, when Ella was in the prime of her career, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas is an ode to some of the great American Christmas songs. Although often bordering on lightweight and corny, it this same lightness that makes the album ideal for holidays.
There has never been a vocalist quite like Ella Fitzgerald. Her remarkable tone, seeming almost angelic at times, and her impeccable understanding of rhythm and time, evident in her scatting and swing style, transformed jazz singing and placed Ella as the torchbearer for interpreting American popular music.
A great part of the success of Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas, is the song selection. Staying away from gospel songs or Christmas carols, Ella instead opts for the playful and nostalgic songs of Christmas. Highlights include the warm vibraphones of “Christmas Song”, the joyous swinging “Jingle Bells,” and the slow swinging horn arrangements of “Sleigh Ride.” The studio orchestra backing Ella, arranged and directed by Frank DeVol who gained popularity for his haunting string and piano arrangement for Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” provides the ideal backdrop for Ella’s warm tone and lighthearted take on these tracks.
Some of the album’s most tender and memorable moments come when Ella hits upon the melancholy moments of the holidays. On the highly underrated “What Are You Doing For New Years?,” Ella’s voice has pangs of loneliness as she sings “Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?” Ella wonders out loud if the man she has an eye on will be hers for New Year’s Eve. The track oozes with the nervousness and instability of a new relationship. It’s a shame we only get to hear this track once a year.
Although this album does not feature the wildness of Ella’s scatting or the emotional depth of some of her other works, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas provides the perfect music for the holidays. It may be a bit corny, but isn’t that what the holidays are all about? Decorate the tree, have some egg nog and sing along with Ella. You only get to do it once a year, so enjoy!
Words By Nora Ritchie