Recorded in Los Angeles; August 28, 1973.
Ella Fitzgerald and guitarist Joe Pass teamed up in a set of duets for this album which has been reissued on CD. Because the emphasis is on ballads and not all of the songs are that well suited to Fitzgerald's musical personality (particularly "Lush Life" and "I Want to Talk About You"), this set is only a mixed success. Much more successful are "Don't Be That Way" and "A Foggy Day" but this is not one of the more essential Ella Fitzgerald records.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Two is company all right, but in jazz three is nearly always better, because the available permutations, of tone colour, of harmonic texture, of melodic interplay, are infinitely richer. On the other hand, the jazz duologue, when it does come off, is one of the most charming of all forms of performance, and very often also one of the most profound. The memory recalls Armstrong and Hines walking the tightrope of "Weather Bird," Ellington and Jimmy Blanton playing cat-and-mouse in "Pitter Panther Patter," Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang plucking aphorisms out of thin air like two wise old men gossiping in the sun. Duologues of this kind can be buttressed by no aesthetic insurance policies, no orchestrations, no formal figures, no instrumental stratagems. By their very nature they have to be something between a desperate gamble and duel of wits. The performance begins, the antennae are out, the performance ends. That is all, which explains why memorable duologues are so rare. But none of the examples I recall come into the same category as the music on this album, because all of them involved two instrumentalists pitting their wits and backing their experience against the hazard of the form. But what of Ella, who has no instrumental experience at all? How would she, a singer with no formal training of any kind, know where to begin in so challenging a situation? The answer, of course,
defines Ella's uniqueness as an artist, although it cannot explain it. Nobody can explain it because it is an accident, one of those flukes of nature with which jazz history is graced here and there. Whether it is heredity, or environment or sheer intuition which explains Ella's possession of the instrumentalist's pragmatic wisdom without his background can never be known, but not for the first time in her life, she shows, in these few apparently casual performances how for all practical purposes, the exactitude of her pitch allied to the scrupulous organization of her harmonic logic, have enabled her to treat her voice literally as a keyboard instrument with all the keyboard instrument's precision of statement.
But there is a difficulty here. If, for instance, we praise Ella for the effortless Tightness of her pitching of the difficult intervals of the melody of "Don't Be That Way," we are praising her only for what any instrumental hack can do in his sleep, and are back at Samuel Johnson's silly dictum about the woman's preaching, "which is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all."
The real assessment of her gift may be found in "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," that fascinating and ever-fresh compromise between the Blues and the Popular Song form. "Gee Baby" is one of those tunes constructed entirely on the cycle of dominant seventh chords and the sweet inevitability with which they resolve, each one of the next, and the song's undoubted piquancy arises out of the fact that as in "Sweet Georgia Brown," the cycle begins on the chord whose major third happens to be a semitone above the keynote. It is a moment in the song's construction which offers a constant challenge to the musician trying to find an interesting route along an over familiar byway, and it is educational to see what Ella makes of it. In the thirteenth bar of the first chorus, Ella hits the word "Love," apparently sticking to the pitch as indicated on the song-sheet, but then, almost before she has defined this conventional, not to say conservative note, she is off on a glissando which soars up until it comes to rest on that note a semitone above the keynote, doing by pure instinct what a great many instrumentalists over the years have thought out most carefully before committing themselves.
This album, like so many of Ella's, is peppered with similar examples, and there is no room here to list even half of them, except to suggest that the descending chromatic sequence with which Ella polishes off the main melody at the halfway point of the second vocal chorus of "Don't Be That Way" might be worth thinking about, and that when it comes to Billy Strayhorn's exquisite exercise in shifting tonality, "Lush Life," the melody that has foxed virtually every vocalist who ever drew breath, Ella reads the text as correctly as Strayhorn himself.
Earlier in this note I found an excuse for mentioning the name of Lonnie Johnson, and my choice of analogy was quite deliberate. The other half of this duologue is provided by the guitar of Joe Pass, and there are moments when his beautiful paraphrases of the vocal line so vividly recall the walking triplets of Lonnie Johnson broken up occasionally by a skipping figure as the triplets become semi quavers, that it is almost as though Johnson's ancient lore were blending with Pass's modern attitudes to form a remarkable synthesis. The guitar solo interludes are among the best examples I ever remember hearing of that quiescent, pensive mood which solo guitar evokes so well, but it is the mechanics of the duologue which fascinate me. In the last eight of "You Go To My Head," Ella opens with a rising chromatic phrase; as she completes it Pass begins a parallel climb up his own keyboard. In "A Foggy Day" the free tempo is gently coaxed into four-in-a-bar at precisely the moment in the vocal interpretation when the warmth of a rhythmic pulse seems about to generate itself. Luck or judgment? With which purely rhetorical question I close the subject.
- Benny Green