Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Stompin' at the Savoy

Whatever the contractual agreements were that allowed Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to record together for Verve Records over a year's time (1956-57), owner/producer Norman Granz managed to sponsor some truly classic jazz vocalizing in that brief window of opportunity: three fine albums spread over five LPs. It was a bittersweet mix of massively talented yet totally mismatched voices, of course; just the question of what key to choose was a repeated challenge, mostly resolved by careful key changes in the midst of songs. ("And now you has jazz," as Satch would opine elsewhere.)

The magic was certainly working overtime when they met for the Ella and Louis Again sessions, and most specifically tripped the light on a superb "Stompin' at the Savoy." In earlier times, that big band ditty had Lindy Hopped right out the Savoy doors and around the block in high-stepping versions by Ella's old boss Chick Webb, busy hitman Benny Goodman, bandmeister Isham Jones, and umpteen others, but nothing could match the hi-fi swing plus ultra of Satch and Miss E.

Granz favored jam sessions, head arrangements, and one or two takes, all to foster what he insisted was true jazz improvisation. On this track (so say the original liner notes), he happened to be rolling tape during the first rehearsal of "Stompin'." The rhythm section locked into a quiet groove, Ella and the quartet on tiptoes at first, and then the happy feet jumped higher, called out by rowdy drums and scatting and that sudden, romping trumpet. As Ella and Louis both began stomping through their own new lyrics to replace forgotten or unwanted words, the magic of jazz was right there: the contrast of voices smooth and rough, of aural sugar and spice, perfect-on-the-notes Ella and perennial trumpet/vocal phenomenon Satch, each inventing interjections and half-words and new notes on the fly, and the rhythm with them every step of the way.

Cue it up and you'll hear the sound of two masters (six, rather) in the cheery throes of creation, finding the spirit of the Savoy Ballroom alive in a Hollywood studio, having the tap-your-feet time and bouncing fun of their lives … one perfect definition of Swing.

January 09, 2009 · 1 comment


Joe Pass: Stompin' at the Savoy

Joe Pass's hollow-body guitar is drenched in reverb and enhanced by low shelving; its trebleness is especially apparent during his solo turns, but even more so compared to many of his contemporaries. While their notes may outnumber his, Pass's lines are strategically placed along the fretboard, ringing out with force and passion and a captivating intelligence that is always on display. While his volume is miles in front of the rhythm section, the dynamics remain undamaged. They allow him to speak by simply sticking to the original arrangement, marching in lockstep on a straight-ahead plank. The ride-accented drums and standup bass recall traditional jazz, and the mellow swing does not break any new ground, but the groove is both effortless and engaging, and the track ultimately features many confident, uncomplicated bars of jazz. In flawless time, the players enhance the standard with charisma, the rhythm section perfectly complementing Pass's technical expertise. Their cool-blue gusto, obviously honed through nightly performance, rings true to the song's spirit. On an undemanding chart, the simplicity is never at odds with the cut's trajectory. Such clarity of vision is invigorating.

December 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Geoff Keezer: Stompin' at the Savoy

Geoff Keezer performed in the final installment of the Jazz Messengers. He is therefore featured on a couple of original albums (The Last Drum Solo and One For All), and also performed in some celebratory festival performances designated as "Jazz Messenger and Friends" (see The Art of Jazz, recorded live at the Leverkusen Jazz Festival in Germany in 1989). As per usual, Keezer's early experience in Blakey's band led to the solidification of his own career, and 1996's Turn Up the Quiet features the then 26-year- old performing with Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, and on select tracks, vocalist Diana Krall. This instrumental trio track showcases Keezer's talents as both instrumentalist and arranger, with his modernized interpretation of "Stompin' at the Savoy."

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Nancy King: Stompin' at the Savoy

Bugattis are scarce in the Kia-filled parking lot of current jazz vocalists, but Nancy King is that rare marquee. She possesses the four essential elements of a genuine jazz artist: a singular voice, skills to express that voice, subterranean knowledge of the art form, and expansive innovative tendencies. The Savoy has been stomped at by Armstrong to Connick and Ella to O’Day, yet Nancy’s model comes with her brand of wit, state-of-the-art handling of melody and lyric, and aerodynamic improvising from her and four perceptive players. An invigorating spin in a vintage vehicle: 0 to swingin’ in 2.5 seconds.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Christian: Stompin' at the Savoy (Live at Minton's)

Charlie Christian’s relatively short recording career provided an invaluable historical link in the transition from swing to bop. Recording primarily with Benny Goodman but also participating in many of the first bebop jam sessions at Minton's, Christian’s rhythmic phrasing and horn-influenced melodic lines helped introduce a new jazz vocabulary. While most recorded Christian solos are brief, “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is a prime example of Christian stretching out and performing an extended solo alongside two other bop pioneers, Monk and Clarke. Take particular note of the (now common) bebop phrases that Christian introduces from 3:46 through 4:05 in his solo.

October 23, 2007 · 1 comment


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