Listening Quest #9: Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 by Vicki Martin | Listening Quest

This week it's two for one! It's not hard for Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, since they often worked together and put out three albums together. Louis was born in 1901 and Ella in 1917, and they are both jazz singers who grew up poor and black but became known as top-notch musicians who helped turn jazz music into popular music. This song, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", is from their second album, Ella & Louis Again, recorded in 1957. You'll hear Louis's characteristic low growly voice (though you won't hear him play trumpet on this recording) with Ella's smooth and clean voice.

Between the two of them, they made scat singing popular in jazz. Louis was one of the first to do it, and Ella became one of the masters. What is scat singing? Well, it's taking the art of improvising and making your own music one degree further by singing nonsense syllables instead of regular words to the song, like this:

Interestingly enough, it was almost accidental that scat singing became popular. Louis's first recording with it was on the song "Heebie Jeebies", and as the story goes:

At a recording session for Okeh Records, when the sheet music supposedly fell on the floor and the music began before he could pick up the pages, Armstrong simply started singing nonsense syllables while Okeh president E.A. Fearn, who was at the session, kept telling him to continue. Armstrong did, thinking the track would be discarded, but that was the version that was pressed to disc, sold, and became an unexpected hit.  (Thank you, Wikipedia!)

Extra Exploring: Want more? Try these out:

Ella sings O Lady Be Good:

Louis plays trumpet and sings They Can't Take That Away with Ella:

Louis sings live, with scat & trumpet in Hello Dolly: