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Roy Eldridge Quartet/Ella Fitzgerald Quintet: In Concert (SteepleChase)

Review of a previously unreleased 1959 recording from Copenhagen featuring the fabled trumpeter and even more fabled vocalist

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Cover of Roy Eldridge/Ella Fitzgerald album In Concert
Cover of Roy Eldridge/Ella Fitzgerald album In Concert

Roy Eldridge’s name on this disc is a bit of a red herring. The trumpeter plays the first two songs, accompanied by the same band that will back Ella Fitzgerald on the remainder of the program. Make no mistake: This recording belongs to the First Lady of Song, who’s in top form for this May 1959 Copenhagen performance.

Granted, it’s hard to find a Fitzgerald title from this period where she wasn’t in top form, so perhaps In Concert is just par for the course. But what a par. Her flawless flower of a voice coats each song like a soothing balm; only on close listening do we hear details like her masterful rubato on “You Brought Me a New Kind of Love” or the delicately sung syllables of “Lady Be Good” (here even slower than on her then-recent Gershwin Songbook album). But there are also delights right on the surface: “All Right, Okay, You Win” is loaded with Fitzgerald’s famous ad libs in both scat and lyric. (“He got eyes like diamonds, teeth shine like yellow gold—FORT KNOX!”)

The album’s jewel is an on-point reading of “Whatever Lola Wants.” Fitzgerald melds with precision to Gus Johnson’s drums, then guitarist Herb Ellis melds with precision to Fitzgerald; they hold the line through more of Ella’s rubato, flourishes and growls, moving on a dime into high gear when the song becomes a medley with “Who’s Got the Pain?”

Does that make the Eldridge tunes throwaways? Hardly. Both “Soft Winds” and the rhythm-changes “Roy’s Riff” are brilliant showcases for his serrated-edge trumpet sound and timeless swing, the former doubling as a feature for Ellis’ surprisingly caustic guitar. He and Eldridge are a magical combination. Good as they are, though, they’re appetizers. Ella is the main course.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.