Some things just go together perfectly whether through chemistry, timing or sheer chance and Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald were the ideal musical combo even though their voices were completely different. They made three albums together under the noted ‘Verve’ recording label, Ella and Louis, Ella and Louis Again and Porgy and Bess. There are other sampler cds available and of course mp3 options if you want to build your own collection, but I think that the Verve recordings are superb and worth seeking out. The original cover photo is also excellent. Ella’s looking casual yet elegant and Louis Armstrong is sitting beside her with startling white socks rolled down into ‘doughnuts’ at his ankles and a trumpet lying across his lap; instead of a genius or the most important name in jazz he just looks like a friendly guy that anyone would love to have a beer with on the front porch. Of course, this was part of Armstrong’s appeal; he was never pretentious, he was passionate about what he did and when you listen you will hear that honesty being channeled into his playing and vocals.
The point is: if you haven’t heard Ella and Louis, why not?
Here’s the track listing for Ella and Louis:
1. Can’t We Be Friends?
2. Isn’t This a Lovely Day?
3. Moonlight in Vermont
4. They Can’t Take That Away from Me
5. Under a Blanket of Blue
7. Foggy Day
8. Stars Fell on Alabama
9. Cheek to Cheek
10. Nearness of You
11. April in Paris
Every time I play one of the Verve compilations (often it’s when I am having a party and uncertain of everyone’s varying musical tastes) someone is absolutely going to ask what cd it is or want to know who’s singing. The sound is intimate (want to make it sound like you hired a piano and some expensive jazz musicians for the evening?) classic and eternally cool. Even younger listeners – and I am talking teens now – who have no point of reference for this kind of music will often come forward wanting to know who Armstrong is and curious to know more.
On Ella and Louis there is also a stellar set of musicians backing them up. Buddy Rich is on drums and the very capable Oscar Peterson trio linger in the background, with Louis providing his own trumpet additions. Actually, both Ella and Louis had the awe inspiring ability to shape their voices to mimic an instrument, (particularly the horn section in Ella’s case) and this is very much in evidence on this record. Listen carefully, remembering how spare the actual orchestration is. I also love their asides, Louis’ ‘Swing it Ella!’ You can hear the smiles in their performance, how they play off one another. Imagine too what a thrill it must have been for Ella Fitzgerald, who had been a huge Armstrong fan as a girl to then go on to record with him, herself. Because they were so perfect together, it’s easy to forget that they were not really contemporaries; in fact, Louis was almost twenty years older than Ella.
Listen to these vintage songs in your car, as you make dinner, on a rainy day or as you clean the house. Don't expect sleepy lounge lizard ballads devoid of anything real. Realise as the hairs stand up on your arms that you are discovering the universal appeal that is Ella and Louis! Enjoy.
Buy Ella and Louis at Amazon.com