Ever since she joined Chick Webb's Orchestra as a teenager, after being discovered by Benny Carter at one of those legendary Apollo Theater talent shows in 1934, Ella Fitzgerald reigned as Jazz' Queen of song, right up until her passing in 1996. Likewise, no one can dispute the fact that in spite of his "title" of "Duke," Edward Kennedy Ellington was the King of big band Jazz. But it wasn't until Ella signed with Verve Records, beginning her long management/recording relationship with famed producer Norman Granz, that she and Ellington began their collaborative relationship in 1957.
Eight years later, their eagerly anticipated reunion resulted in an international tour and the wonderful recording 'Ella at Duke's Place.' One of the things that makes it so successful is the Ellington elegance, grace and wisdom that allows him to not only give Ella the spotlight, but also provide a perfectly sublime setting for her to exhibit her emotional and artistic range. While Ellington featured vocalists regularly, they were usually part of the fabric of a piece or their solo spots were an element of the larger tapestry of the overall presentation. In this case, the vocalist is not only featured, but also the dominant solo instrument as opposed to the normal Ellingtonian sweep of different leads, and various soloists emerging from the rich compositional texture.
Ella's warmth and clear upper-register are quite comparable to Duke's longtime cohort Johnny Hodges' sensational also sax sound, and naturally, Hodges vehicles were included among the Ellington and Strayhorn compositions selected for the session. Two gorgeous Strayhorn features for Hodges, 'Passion Flower' and the less well-known 'A Flower is a Lovesome Thing' are given beautiful treatments by Ella as part of what was in the days of Side A-Side B LPs, called The Pretty, The Lovely, The Tender, The Hold-Me-Close Side. With Ellington-influenced pianist/arranger Jimmy Jones adapting the Ellington style to Ella's needs on these, as well as 'Something to Live For' and 'I Like the Sunrise,' and providing piano accompaniment, that description is quite apt. Duke's beautiful 'Mood Indigo' follow-up, 'Azure' rounds out the lovely "Side A."
The Finger-Snapping, Head Shaking, Toe-Tapping, Go-For-Yourself Side comprises the second half of the CD, and is an equally fitting title. Ella's trademark scat-singing is in full flight here, capped by the final cut, a scorching version of Duke's classic showstopper, 'Cotton Tail.' At it's conclusion, the entire orchestra reportedly burst into applause in recognition of capturing such an exciting performance on tape. It's a perfect conclusion to the album, and nicely led up to by the other four cuts on the "hot side" - a fine version of 'Imagine My Frustration,' arranged by Gerald Wilson that's so hard rocking that Ella told baritone sax great Harry Carney that he had the electric bass part; along with 'What Am I Here for,' 'Brownskin Gal in the Calico Gown' (from Duke's 1941 musical 'Jump For Joy') and the vocal version of 'C-Jam Blues,' called 'Duke's Place.'
These tracks also give Hodges, Cootie Williams, Jimmy Hamilton and Paul Gonsalves some nice solo space, and Gonsalves' interactions with Ella are especially notable.
A delightful CD from any point of view.
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