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Music Review: Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson – Ella and Oscar

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The Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series has reached the one year mark. They have released a number of classic jazz albums, which have been remastered so as to achieve a clear and pristine sound. Most contain unissued bonus tracks and all contain the original liner notes plus an extended essay presenting a history of the music and recording sessions. Four new titles have just been issued. Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, and Cal Tjader/Stan Getz Sextet are the newest additions to what will hopefully be a long series of releases.

Ella and Oscar by Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson was recorded during 1975, and was produced by the legendary Norman Granz. The only other musician to appear is bassist Ray Brown who provides support on tracks 6-9, which was side two of the original vinyl release. Brown played with Peterson for decades and was married to Fitzgerald for six years. He would continue to support her professionally after their divorce.

Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007, is recognized as one of the enduring piano players in jazz history. His career extended over 60 years and he recorded nearly 200 albums worth of music as a solo artist, group leader, and supporting other artists. He may not have been as creative as some of his well-known counterparts, but his preciseness and the melodic nature of his music appealed to a vast audience, which extended the acceptance and commercial appeal of jazz music.

Ella Fitzgerald, 1919-1996, is now recognized as one of history’s premier jazz vocalists. During her six decade career, she recorded over 80 albums and placed 60 plus singles on the pop charts. She won 13 Grammy Awards and received The National Medal Of Art from President Ronald Reagan and The Presidential Medal Of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush.

Fitzgerald and Peterson toured together many times during their careers and both received wide commercial success while signed to Norman Granz’s Verve Label. Granz sold the label to MGM during the early 1960s for $3,000,000. In 1973 he formed the Pablo Label and quickly signed Fitzgerald and Peterson.

Ella and Oscar is so relaxed, it could have been recorded in the living room of either of the artists. Both just seem to cruise through the sessions without really straining, yet the results are stunning.

“Mean To Me” is an old Billie Holiday tune that Fitzgerald smooths out. Gershwin’s “Midnight Sun” and Johnny Mercer’s “How Long Has This Been Going On” were taken for Fitzgerald’s Song Book Series. The melodies are made for Peterson’s style and Ella’s retrained vocals are a perfect match.

The classics “I Hear Music” and “April In Paris” were long term favorites of Fitzgerald. It was about as swinging as she would ever get and Ray Brown joining Peterson provides a nice foundation.

There are a number of nice ballads. The playing of Peterson on “Street Of Dreams,” “More Than You Know,” “There’s A Lull In My Life,” and “Midnight Sun” draws you in and Fitzgerald’s vocals transport you to other places.

The four bonus tracks are unreleased, different takes from material contained on the album. It is fascinating to hear how different they are from the material that was selected.

Ella and Oscar is a look at two jazz icons at the height of their powers. It remains a smooth listen 36 years after its initial release.

 

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About David Bowling

  • Anand Doraswami

    Just a small correction: How long has this been going on? was written by Gershwin and Gershwin and Midnight sun by Lionel Hampton and Johnny Mercer.