Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong,
Best of Ella Fitzgerald
and Louis Armstrong

(Verve, 1997)

What two names in classic jazz evoke such a strong response as quickly as Ella and Louis? With Ella's clear tonality and perfect pitch, and Louis's grumbly rasp and expressive trumpet -- they are easily two of the most recognizable and enduring names in the genre. When put together, you've got a perfect recipe for a hit.

Verve's pairing of the two, from sessions spanning early 1956 to late 1957 and collected from the three volumes of recordings titled simply Ella and Louis, Volumes I - III, is just such a hit.

The album itself is an amazing collection, containing such quintessential jazz classics as "Summertime" from the 1935 Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess and "You Won't Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart)," and everything in between. Ella croons sweetly above Louis's growly harmony lines, dueling back and forth with voices that sound more like instruments than voices.

Oddly enough, the voices in this recording are (intentionally) louder than the music playing behind. Often the music is lost somewhat, except as an unconscious accompaniment to what's going on in front. It's a fine trade-off -- the voices fill in what the music would never be able to, and vice versa. The result is a strong vocal album with music that compliments the strong personalities making it.

Even though the music is, for the most part, secondary on this album, there is still an impressive set of musicians behind Ella and Louis. Since the recordings were made at the height of both the jazz set and the artists' careers, the entourage was impressive. Buddy Rich, Billy Kyle, Edmond Hall and Louie Bellson were all a part of the background ambiance on one track or another, and several of the tracks were accompanied by the famed Russell Garcia Orchestra. "Summertime," in fact, is backed by the strings and soft intensity of Garcia's crew.

This album is easy on the ears. Calm enough to relax to, upbeat enough to keep you company during a long evening, this album should be a priority on any jazzophile's to-buy list.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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