As we continue to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month, we look at collaborations by the First Lady of Jazz and Ambassador Satch, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
During their times together they recorded three albums, Ella and Louis(1956), Ella and Louis Again (1957), and Porgy and Bess (1959). Even though they were they were opposites in how they sang, they were still completely functional together, and respectful of each other. Ella had been a fan of his for years, so she was delighted to work with him starting in the 1940’s. She wanted to make sure that Satchmo felt comfortable when it came time for them to record their sessions.
Their original pairing was viewed as a musical marriage of convenience: Ella, a young singer searching for credibility and validation in the jazz world forged a great partnership with Louis, a jazz giant, who was considered the elder statesman of jazz.
Music producer and jazz impresario Norman Granz once said about Ella, “she deferred to Armstrong on all aspects of the record and was just pleased to be in the studio with her idol. When she made the first album with Louis, she insisted that he select the tunes, and she sang them all in his keys, even if they were the wrong keys for her.”
According to the Ella and Louis liner notes, their first album was recorded in only one day and mostly in single takes. “Everyone enjoyed making it so much”, Fitzgerald said years later, “it never seemed like we were really recording”.
One thing that makes the couple’s duets so pleasing to the ear is the conversational informality of their vocal exchanges. Even though there was an age difference of 19 years between them, their affinity is such that any generational barriers seemed to miraculously disappear.
The only problem that they ever really had was Armstrong’s intense and perpetual touring schedule. Their sessions were arranged at the last minute, so there were no opportunities for rehearsal. Even so, Ella was unaffected by singing in Armstrong’s keys and he performed impeccably on material that he wasn’t familiar with.
Two of their song collaborations that have been favorites among jazz fans for years. Cheek to Cheek, a 1935 song written by Irving Berlin for the movie Top Hat starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Armstrong sang the song years later their 1956 album Ella and Luis. On this version the Oscar Peterson-led rhythm section kept the song moving along.
The other song, Summertime, was featured on their third album together Porgy and Bess. Summertime was written in 1934 by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward for the 1935 play Porgy and Bess, which was based off Heyward’s novel Porgy. On their version Ella and Louis give a moving vocal performance with Armstrong playing some of his finest trumpet moments. “Summertime” is considered one of Ella and Louis’ most successful collaborations.
Armstrong and Fitzgerald’s Porgy and Bess album is considered the most musically successful among jazz vocal versions regarding the play.
Ella and Louis’ collaborations provide nothing short of a cornucopia of riches, it represents one of the finest duo’s in jazz.