Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

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  • Stunning sound on this early Verve Mono LP with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++) and playing reasonably quietly
  • As Good As It Gets – no modern pressing can hope to put Ella and Louis right in the room with you the way this one from 1956 can
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good.

Vintage All Tube Analog

The sound is big, open, rich and full, with the performers front and center. Ella and Louis are no longer representations — they’re living, breathing persons. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Their voices are so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

These vintage LPs have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Ella Fitzgerald and a real Louis Armstrong singing together, live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

What the best sides of this vintage Verve label stereo pressing have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1956
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the voices and instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 59 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

And we know a fair bit about Ella’s recordings at this point. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums, and that’s not counting the sixteen (yes, 16!) titles we put in our Hall of Shame.

Lower Mids Are Key

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we heard them all.

We’re glad to report this copy was doing more of what we wanted it to do than any other we played.

And we know a fair bit about Ella’s recordings at this point. We’ve searched high and low for her records and played them by the score over the years. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums, and that’s not counting the sixteen (yes, 16!) titles we put in our Hall of Shame.

What We’re Listening For on Ella and Louis

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Hardness and Brashness

Want to know what we are on about with all this talk of hardness and brashness on records of this vintage? Unless you have been exceptionally fortunate to have chanced upon a properly mastered and pressed and cared for copy, you will hear plenty of both on most pressings.

It’s one of the main reasons we have such a hard time doing shootouts for Ella’s ’50s and ’60s albums. The other of course is the poor condition most copies are in. Few pressings do not have marks that play or damaged grooves. The record players of the ’50s and ’60s, not to mention their owners, were ruinous on the records of the day.

Obviously, we wouldn’t bother if the music and sound weren’t so good. When you are lucky enough to find a copy that sounds as good as this one, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

TRACK LISTING

1. Can’t We Be Friends
2. Isn’t This a Lovely Day
3. Moonlight in Vermont
4. They Can’t Take That Away From Me
5. Under a Blanket of Blue
6. Tenderly
7. A Foggy Day
8. Stars Fell on Alabama
9. Cheek to Cheek
10. The Nearness of You

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz. Both artists were riding high at this stage in their careers, and Granz assembled a stellar quartet of Oscar Peterson (piano), Buddy Rich (drums), Herb Ellis (guitar) and Ray Brown (bass). Equally inspired was the choice of material, with the gruffness of Armstrong’s voice blending like magic with Fitzgerald’s stunningly silky delivery. Outstanding are Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” and “Isn’t This a Lovely Day,” and everything else works like a dream, with the golden star going to the Gershwin brothers’ “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.