maandag 9 december 2013

Ella Fitzgerald: The Secret Of Christmas b/w The Christmas Song (UK, His Masters Voice, 45 POP 686, 1959)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles celebrates the Christmas single in two ways. By the Singles Club, aimed at releasing new and hopefully soon to be classic Christmas singles. And by documenting the Christmas singles from the past, especially those that deserve to be heard, also in 2013.

The first Christmas single that I like to write about, features my favorite Christmas song, the beautiful 'The Secret Of Christmas', sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella Fitzgerald doesn't really need any introduction, as she was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, jazz singer of the 20th Century. As every famous jazz singer Ella has recorded a range of Christmas songs. Probably most famous is her 1960 Verve Christmas album “Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas”, including such standards as 'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!', 'Sleigh Ride' and 'Winter Wonderland'.

The year before the album was released, Ella had recorded two other Christmas songs for Verve. On 3 september 1959, Ella entered United Records, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA and cut three tracks, arranged by Russ Garcia, and accompanied by his Orchestra. Besides swing standard 'Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar' (later B-side to Ella's single 'Like Young'), Ella recorded two Christmas songs: 'The Christmas Song', written by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells and a more recent song, 'The Secret Of Christmas'.

'The Secret Of Christmas' was written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen for Bing Crosby and was first performed by him in the 1959 20th Century Fox movie 'Say One For Me'. Bing Crosby recorded the song with an arrangement by Frank DeVol for a single that year released by Columbia Records. It interesting that Frank DeVol would also arrange Ella's Verve Christmas album the following year, but did not arrange Ella's version of 'The Secret Of Christmas'. Bing Crosby did record a second version of the song, in 1964, for the album 'The 12 Songs Of Christmas'.

In the United States, 'The Secret Of Christmas' was released as the B-side to 'The Christmas Song', as Verve V 10186. Also in other countries, like The Netherlands, 'The Christmas Song' was the A-side of the single (Verve VV 20.079X45). The British valued the beauty of 'The Secret Of Christmas', as Ella's UK label, His Master Voice, released the two songs on 7” (as 45 POP 686) and choose to make 'The Secret Of Christmas' the A-side of the single.

'The Secret Of Christmas' is a very simple song, without any couplets or refrain. The song is 2.45 minutes long, but listening to it, it is as if is even shorter. It starts out very quietly with Ella's voice and very minimal musical accompanement, and sums up all that Christmas isn't – “not the glow you feel, when snow appears”, “not the Christmas cards you've send for years”, “not the joyful sound when sleighbells ring or the merry songs children sing”. Slowy some bells and violins are turning up in the sound. When the song reaches its conclusion, the secret of Christmas is revealed: “it is not the things you do at Christmas time, but the Christmas things you do, all year through”. And is there really a better way to describe the spirit of Christmas?

For the completists, the recordings featured, besides Ella Fitzgerald on vocals, Russ Garcia (arr, cnd) and his orchestra, consisting of Pete Candoli, Philip Candreva, Buddy Childers, Stu Williamson (tp), Murray McEachern, George Roberts, Lloyd Ulyate (tb), Jay Corre, Chuck Gentry, Bill Holman, Ted Nash (ww), Mary Jane Barton (hp), David Frisina, Dan Lube, William Miller, Eudice Shapiro, Felix Slatkin (vl), Claude JR. Williamson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Red Mitchell (b), Tommy Shepard (eb) and Jack Sperling (d).

Unfortunately, the single did not chart, neither in the USA with 'The Christmas Song' as the A-side, nor in the UK, with 'The Secret Of Christmas' as the A-side.

You can listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing 'The Secret Of Christmas' here: Video

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