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Verve 314 537 909-2
Best of Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
These fifteen tracks may be the greatest recordings in Verve's hallowed vaults - masterpieces selected from the three albums of duets recorded by "Pops" and a Lady named Ella. Here, in the best sound to date, featuring popular American songs of the interwar period, is the Best of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on Verve.
1. Let's Call The Whole Thing Off
(George and Ira Gershwin, b. Jacob and Israel Gershovitz)
2. Love Is Here To Stay
(George and Ira Gershwin)
3. The Nearness Of You
(Hoagland "Howard" Carmichael - Ned Washington)
4. Stars Fell On Alabama
(Frank Perkins - Mitchell Parish)
5. Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good To You?
(Donald Matthew "Don" Redman - Andy Razaf, b. Andreamentena Razafinkeriefo)
6. They Can't Take That Away From Me
(George and Ira Gershwin)
7. Autumn In New York
(Vernon Duke, b. Vladimir Dukelsky)
George and Ira Gershwin - DuBose Heyward)
(Walter Gross - Jack Lawrence)
10. Stompin' At The Savoy
(Benny Goodman - Edgar Sampson - William Henry "Chick" Webb - Andy Razaf)
11. Under A Blanket Of Blue
(Jerry Livingston - Al J. Neiburg - Marty Symes)
12. I Wants To Stay Here
(Ira Gershwin - DuBose Heyward)
13. I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
(Irving Berlin, b. Israel Balin)
14. There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York
15. You Won't Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart)
(Freddy James - Larry Stock)
The voices could hardly be more different. Listen, for example, to The Nearness Of You. First comes Ella Fitzgerald, her warm, confident voice precisely pronouncing every syllable of the lyric. Then comes Louis Armstrong, to whom words are far from sacred: “Oh, no, it’s just the nearness of you” becomes “Oh, no, YES, it’s just the nearness – you”. And the interjections – yes, yeah, babe – aren’t the half of it.
Armstrong’s sighs and grunts are as important as the actual words he sings, especially since the syllables serve the same function for him as the notes he plays on his trumpet. “[Louis] never deferred to the material or the background,” says Norman Granz, who produced Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s recordings together as well as three other Armstrong albums for Verve Records.
“He did what he did, and that was the beautiful thing. You could hear the breathing or the sighing or, instead of the word, he’d come out with a sound. But he never left the melody, [or] he always came back. And, if he missed word, or if he covered it up by some sound, fine. That’s what made him unique. It’s like a trumpet playing smearing a note.”
Ray Brown, who played bass on many of these recordings, see the same similarity. “Pops is not a singer like Billy Eckstine”, he notes, “but he has something that grabs you. It’s how he says the words, almost like he’s playing the trumpet.” And it’s the contrast between Armstrong and Fitzgerald’s voices that makes these recordings so good. “Had their voices had the same range,” he says, “I don’t think it would have been as much fun. I think that the big difference in their styles is what made it work. What one sings is so completely different from what the other sings.”
Though their approaches differ, the singers share an interpretive affinity. Music critic Henry Pleasants addressed that affinity in his book The Great American Popular Singers (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1974): “What [Ella] shared with Louis … was a certain detachment … a kind of classic serenity.” Granz accurately identified the popular American songs of the interwar period as the music best suited to that serenity, and the three albums represented in this CD, Ella and Louis, Ella and Louis Again, and Porgy and Bess contain such material. It was also some of Granz’s favorite music.
Yet Granz resists the charge that he imposed his taste on Armstrong and Fitzgerald. When asked how the material for those albums was determined, he answers simply: “I chose it.” Then he elaborates:
“I’d say, ‘Why don’t we go over some tunes.’ I would have this meeting at [Ella’s] house, and I would bring a sheaf of maybe fifty songs, and we would go over [them], ‘cause she knew every song, and finally narrow them down.
“I never put a gun to an artist’s head and said, ‘This is what you’ve got to do,.’ That would have been totally stupid, apart from being immoral because, after all, just because you’re paying an artist doesn’t mean you own the artist. You had to have a rapport with the artist where they made the final decision.”
In the case of Armstrong, you also had to have access to him. Unlike Fitzgerald, who, as of 1956 recorded exclusively for Verve, Armstrong was able to record freelance.
Complicating his schedule, however, was his extensive touring, a never-ending worldwide trek. Periodically, though, he turned up on the West Coast, and in August 1956, Granz arranged to record him.
But even when you got Armstrong, you didn’t get him for long, Granz notes. “I didn’t have that much time. I think I literally might have [had] only a day or two to do an album.”
It was august 16, 1956, when Armstrong joined Fitzgerald and the Oscar Peterson Trio plus a drummer to record Ella and Louis. According to Granz, “there was no preparation whatsoever” prior to going into the studio.
“I didn’t have any rehearsals with Louis or Peterson. That was all improvised, all ‘head’ [arrangements]. But fortunately, it fit with the way I recorded. My philosophy was not to have a rehearsal with the band and then bring the band into the studio, but to do a take, and if you were lucky it could be a master take, and if you were not lucky, it could be a rehearsal.”
Unlike many producers at the time and since, Granz deliberately made the singers much louder than the band in the mix.
“[I]f you listen to singers, especially in pop today, it’s a meld with the instruments. I decided that [Ella] was going to be way out in front. I wanted to be sure that you heard the lyrics, but at the same time she got the support whenever the arrangement called for it.”
Fitzgerald and Armstrong’s fans must have approved: Ella and Louis, when it released in the fall of 1956, reached no. 12 on the Billboard Charts and no. 11 in Cash Box. The following summer Granz arranged a follow-up, Ella and Louis Again. Again, the songs were standards. Of those chosen for duets five were songs Fred Astaire had sung with his most popular movie partner, Ginger Rogers, making them fine duets for the equally felicitous teaming of Fitzgerald and Armstrong.
Less than a week after the second album was finished, Granz began working on the third; a version of George and Ira Gershwin’s folk opera, Porgy and Bess. The producer recalls:
“I needed something different. It [had] nothing to do with the opera itself or the story line, because that’s all visual. But the songs were great. I mean the classic Summertime, my God, I think it was the first version of the opera [recorded] by jazz people.”
As it turned out though, the Fitzgerald-Armstrong version of Porgy and Bess was not the first jazz version released.
Porgy and Bess had opened on Broadway in 1935 to a disappointing run; a more successful revival in 1942 was enough to establish it, and several recordings were subsequently released, though none in the jazz idiom. Fifteen years later, in 1957, a nascent civil rights movement piqued new interest in an opera about African-Americans – as did the fact that movie producer Samuel Goldwyn had obtained the rights to it.
Granz denies that he intended a tie-in with the film. As a matter of fact, when Fitzgerald and Armstrong went into the studio, Goldwyn was just beginning his two-year effort to make the film. It is also true, however, that the finished album was held back from release until April 1959 – two months before the movie opening. By that time, the Fitzgerald – Armstrong album found itself competing against at least ten other newly released versions – several of them jazz renditions.
Granz remembers going to see Ira Gershwin each night after the recording sessions for Porgy and Bess, and playing for him what they’d recorded that day. “He was overwhelmed by the poignancy of Louis’s voice when he was singing ‘Bess, O Bess, you is my woman now.’ It was marvelous I [knew] Louis would be fantastic for this album.”
As was Fitzgerald. When it was finally released, this version of Porgy and Bess fought its way through the competition, reaching no. 19 on the Cash Box LP chart despite being a double album. It remains of a piece with the earlier duet albums but, with its gorgeous orchestrations and strong vocal characterizations, takes the unlikely yet perfect teaming of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to a new height and an appropriate conclusion.
Adapted from William Ruhlmann’s essay for
The Complete Ella and Louis on Verve
Compilation supervised by Aric Lach Morrison
Researched and restored by Ben Young
Selected and sequenced by Sharon Blynn
Mastered by Steven Fallone, Carl “The Squirrel” Farruggia, and Ben Young at PolyGram Studios
Notes for 3-CD set edited by Peter Pullman
Adapted here by Deborah Hay
Production assistance by Robert Silverberg
Art directed by Giulio Turturro and Gary Saint Clare
Design by Gary Saint Clare
Design coordinated by Nichell Delvaille
Cover photo by © Phil Stern
Special thanks to Norman Granz, Phil Schaap, the Institute of Jazz Studies, and the staff at PolyGram Studios
Executive producer: Richard Seidel
A Brief History of Verve
In 1944 Norman Granz promoted his first concert, a benefit held at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The live recording, issued in 1946, was a prototype of swinging jazz in concert, known as Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP).
After his initial labels, Clef and Norgran, had been established, Granz inaugurated Verve Records in 1956 – and he brought these earlier efforts under the Verve banner. The Verve catalog grew through the Fifties and Sixties to include most of the major figures in jazz.
Verve, which now incorporates the Mercury Records/EmArcy jazz catalog, is devoted to reissuing it classics on CD while continuing to record major talent producing new jazz classics today.
Visit us at: www.verveinteractive.com
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing on all tracks, accompanied by
on tracks 1 – 7, 9 -11, 13:
Armstrong (t) with Oscar Peterson (p); Herb Ellis (g); Ray Brown (b); Louis Bellson (d).
Tracks 1 and 13: Delete Armstrong (t).
Tracks 3, 4, 6, 9, 11 and 14: Buddy Rich replaces Bellson.
Recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood: tracks 3, 4, 6, 9 and 11 on August 16, 1956.
Tracks 1, 2 5, 7, and 10 on July 23; and track 13 on August 13, 1957
Tracks 1, 2, 5, 7, 10 and 13 original LP issue: Ella and Louis Again, Verve MGV 4006; on CD 825 374 2
Tracks 3, 4, 6, 9, and 11 original LP issue: Ella and Louis, Verve MGV 4003; on CD 825 373-2
On tracks 8, 12 and 14:
Louis Armstrong (t) with Russell Garcia’s orchestra: personnel unknown, Garcia (arr. Cond).
Track 12 Delete Armstrong (t, vcl).
Track 14 Delete Fitzgerald.
Recorded 1957 in Los Angeles: track 8 on August 18; track 14 on August 19; track 12 on August 28.
Original LP issue: Porgy and Bess Verve MGVS 6040-2; on CD 827 475-2
On track 15:
Armstrong (t) with Trummy Young (tb); Edmond Hall (cl); Billy Kyle (p); Dale Jones (b); Barrett Deems (d).
Recorded on August 15, 1956 at the Hollywood Bowl
Original LP issue: Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl / Verve MGV 8231 475-2
Original recordings produced by Norman Granz
The Gershwins ™ Porgy and Bess, by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin. Gershwin is a trademark and service mark of Gershwin Enterprises. Porgy and Bess is a trademark and service mark of Porgy and Bess Enterprises.