Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jazz Duos: More Than The Sum Of Their Parts

When a great singer is teamed with a great jazz instrumentalist, it can either feel shallow and contrived or each musician can bring out something in the other so that the whole is more than the sum of two remarkable parts.  I've previously identified a couple of these magical duets in the list of fifty.  (e.g., The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album; Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown.)  Here are a few more of my personal favorites, starting with the best:

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963).  I'm not sure there's a better version of Billy Strayhorn's composition Lush Life on record.  Hartman was not really a jazz singer, but the combination of his deep baritone voice and Coltrane's beautiful, relatively simple tenor playing (and the backing of Coltrane's great band) created a masterpiece.

Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley (1961).  As one reviewer aptly describes:  "Wilson’s colorful and graceful singing of some lesser known repertoire from the standard songbook is a refreshing and soulful treat for anyone interested in jazz singing. Adderley’s uniquely blithe melodies add a counterpoint to the vocals that has helped this album stand the test of time."  Another reviewer says:  "Given the play list and the outstanding artists performing it, why any serious jazz collection would be without this classic album is difficult to comprehend."

Time for Two:  Anita O'Day and Cal Tjader (1962).  I recently wrote about the wonderful jazz singer, Anita O'Day.  Here she is teamed up with the Latin jazz great Cal Tjader and the Afro-Cuban feel of the album really works.  Some of the song selections are a little quirky, but overall it is a really fun, compelling album.

Ella & Basie (1963).  This was the first time these two jazz giants recorded together, and it is considered one of Ella's best albums, which is really saying something. 

Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson (1957).  Some reviewers find this album a bit predictable, with Armstrong singing, then playing a horn solo, followed by a little back and forth with Peterson's piano.  Probably true, but I don't mind.  For me, listening to Louis Armstrong is always worthwhile, including on these familiar standards with the great Oscar Peterson.

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