Two jazz legends create a jazz vocal masterpiece.
Ella And Louis – Verve Records MG V-4003 (1956)/Verve-Universal Music Group B0033748-01 (2022) [Acoustic Sound Series]180-gram vinyl, 54:06 *****:
(Ella Fitzgerald – vocals; Louis Armstrong – vocals; trumpet; Oscar Peterson – piano; Ray Brown – double bass; Herb Ellis – guitar; Buddy Rich – drums)
There have been many immortal jazz vocalists. Among this venerable group are Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Nat “King” Cole, Jon Hendricks, Abbey Lincoln, Shirley Horn, Peggy Lee and Billy Eckstein, to name a few. It is impossible to select who is literally the “best of the best”. However, the two most beloved jazz singers are Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Fitzgerald was a versatile singer, comfortable in big band swing and sultry ballads. Her flexible vocal prowess saw a career that spanned decades. Armstrong was one of the earliest jazz pioneers whose trumpet solos redefined this emerging genre. But his foray into singing endeared him to America and the world. In 1956, these two national treasures got together in the studio for a session of classic American songs. They were accompanied by Oscar Peterson and his quartet.
Verve/Universal Music Group has released a 180-gram vinyl of this memorable 1956 recording. The vocal contrast is striking…Fitzgerald with her wonderful silky tones and Armstrong with his trademark gravelly voice. Side A opens with “Can’t We Be Friends” as Ella delivers a customary smooth delivery on the first verse, backed by Peterson’s jaunty piano. On the second verse, Armstrong intones with his familiar vocals before adding a trumpet solo. They exchange on the third verse with harmony. Fitzgerald’s command of phrasing and melody is impressive. On “Isn’t This A Lovely Day’, she glides through the initial obscure verse before turning it over to her partner who delivers a bluesy response. This format works, especially the ending duet. The concise trumpet is icing on the cake, aided by Peterson’s nimble play. “Moonlight In Vermont” is a well-known popular standard. Fitzgerald’s elocution is meticulous and the shift to “Satchmo” and his trumpet is a slight variation in the format. Gershwin’s eternal classic, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” never sounded better. Ella’s vocal register elasticity and Armstrong’s syncopated jazz approach suit this tune. In a switch, Louis takes the early lead on “Under A Blanket Of Blue”. When Ella steps in, he duets on horn. “Tenderly” is another pop ballad that has a rich jazz pedigree with covers by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Art Tatum and a host of others. Here, they embrace the slower tempo and transition to cool swing. Peterson and his band are stellar. This time, Louis “scats”.
Gershwin leads off Side B with “A Foggy Day (In London Town)”. Framed by a deft jazzy touch by Peterson, Armstrong handles the opening verse and chorus with a festive vibe . Fitzgerald slides in with nuanced finesse. When the trumpeter joins the quartet, it is magical, as is the final verse “dialogue”. Fitzgerald’s tender caress of “Stars Fell On Alabama” is enhanced by Armstrong’s casual jazzy harmony. Their relaxed chemistry is special. Irving Berlin may be one of the most prolific American songwriters in the first half of the 20th century. His bouncy ditty, “Cheek To Cheek” has an up tempo arrangement with sparkling performances that include intricate harmony and masterful Peterson accompaniment. Following a laconic bluesy piano intro, Fitzgerald creates a sonic reverie on Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness Of You”. Her affinity for distilling romantic melancholy is palpable. Armstrong’s unusual style infuses whimsy and he executes another great solo. The casual elegance of “April In Paris” is a suitable, heartwarming finale to this unforgettable session.
Ella And Louis is one of those albums that lives up to expectations. Both vocalists are at the top of their game. The 180-gram vinyl has a centered mix, and reflects the intimacy of the studio. Hi-gloss gatefold packaging and plastic inner sleeves are superior. This is a vital part of musical history and should be part of any jazz library.
Can’t We Be Friends;
Isn’t This A Lovely Day;
Moonlight In Vermont;
They Can’t Take That Away From Me;
Under A Blanket Of Blue;
Side B: A Foggy Day;
Stars Fell On Alabama;
Cheek To Cheek;
The Nearness Of You;
April In Paris
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