Ella and Louis, by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Suggested by Dreena Jane
A friend of mine once suggested I tried black pepper on strawberries.
I did, of course. I’m a sucker for something new, as you may have guessed from this project. And it was nice. Not the earth-shattering taste explosion I was promised, but not a bile-in-the-throat vom-fest either. If I had to rate it, I’d put it miles below salted-peanuts-and-vanilla-ice-cream (a genuine life-changing moment) but above coffee-granules-and-honey-and-cheddar-cheese (a total ‘meh’).
Some things are perfect on their own. But some of these perfect things, when paired together in an unexpected way, can bear strange and exciting fruit.
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are legends. Until recently, I never knew their musical legacies were so entwined. I knew of Porgy and Bess, of course; I’m not an animal. But their previous two offerings? All new to me.
Ella and Louis is a wonderful palate cleanse of an album, the coupling of Ella’s astounding vocal and Louis’ soulful trumpet / caterwaul across a selection of jazz standards from Gershwin, Berlin, Carmichael and more. It’s relaxed, mellifluous, soulful and utterly charming. You can sink yourselves into this, like a plump marshmallow or an oversized beanbag. It’s like listening to a haze.
While Ella’s voice is beyond reproach, Louis Armstrong relies more on a characterful sound than vocal perfection. It’s iconic, sure, but his still sounds a little like someone strangling a Muppet. It’s the delivery that elevates, and the mutual respect each performer has for the other rings clear in each bar and phrase. And hell, if you don’t like his voice, I hear he’s pretty good at the trumpet too.
There are stone classics on this album, such as Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek or Gershwin’s You Can’t Take That Away From Me, but surprisingly I find the real joy in the less famous tracks. It’s here, I feel, that the true glory of collaboration shines. My personal standout is Tenderly, ending as it does with Ella’s infinitely charming impression of Louis’ signature vocal styling. Sublime.
However, while Ella and Louis is undoubtedly a beautiful album, I doubt it’d get much play in the Stevenson rotation. The music is of an era. Yes, it’s a shining example of that sound, but it’s not really a sound I’d look to dwell in overlong. One or two songs here or there would be enough to whet my Jazz whistle at any given time.
Consequently, I give this album 6/10, happy in the knowledge that it exists, using single songs like sorbet or Polos, cleansing my palette between meatier courses.