You really never know how music festival special events will turn out. Promoters dream them up, like prize fights. Get the two biggest heavyweights in the ring, and you've got yourself a gate.
For the audience, there can be an electric charge in the moment, hearing favorites in unfamiliar pairings. In retrospect rarely do you experience anything explosive. That was not the case in 1966 when Ella Fitzgerald met Duke Ellington, for the final time in their careers.
The festival at Antibes/Juan-les-Pins, on the French Cote D'Azur, had already established itself as a destination for jazz lovers drawn to the lovely Mediterranean summers, when events follow each other throughout the season. The jazz event enjoyed an excellent reputation through the 1960s, and remains one of the top jazz festivals in the world. But it's hard to imagine any achieving as much raw emotion as the collaboration by these two acknowledged masters.
A Special 12-inch LP Release
Now, Mosaic's 3 LP re-release of "Ella & Duke at the Cote D'Azur" on 180-gram vinyl recalls the event for a new generation of listeners. It is a re-release of the original 2-LP set, plus the Ellington album "Soul Call" issued from the same concerts. Essentially, our set presents everything that was chosen, approved and released by the producer and the artists at the time.
At the time, Ella couldn't know that she and Duke - who had shared the recording studio and the stage with her before - would never appear together again. But the First Lady of Song delivered in that concert series like she was singing for the ages.
The weekend series was charged with feelings for an extremely sad reason - Ella was forced to fly to New York, and missed the first night of the festival, because of the sudden death of her half-sister Frances. That she could return to France to honor the booking is remarkable in itself. That she could unleash such extraordinary musical power in her trio and big band performances is almost unbelievable.
Big Band and Small Group Presentations
The concert format presented Ellington and Ella together with the orchestra; the orchestra alone without vocals; and Ella with a sometimes stripped-down version of the orchestra, but mostly accompanied by the Jimmy Jones Trio. Where Ella's studio performances could be almost too perfectly lovely and self-possessed, in these concert dates she seemed to connect to the lyrics with unique emotionalism, and to an inner confidence that allowed her to stretch beyond the norm. You expect fireworks in her rendition with the band of "Mack the Knife," and Ella doesn't disappoint. Another Ella favorite, "It Don't Mean a Thing," gets an incredibly jazzy rendition - free and fun for her and for Ellington guests Jo Jones, Ben Webster and Ray Nance (sharing vocals with Ella). The recordings prove that, as magisterial as Ella was in the studio and so in control of her gifts, she could be a woman unleashed in concert.
Her always-admired scatting took on new musicianship in the presence of such renowned soloists, and on ballads she achieved unparalleled nuance and texture. In particular, the lovely "The More I See You,' backed only by pianist Jimmy Jones, reaches a startling level of intimacy.
The Ellington orchestra was his mid-sixties configuration featuring long-time associates Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Ray Nance, and the great Johnny Hodges, plus Cat Anderson, Mercer Ellington, Russell Procope, Sam Woodyard, Paul Gonsalves and more, including special guest appearances by Ben Webster and Jo Jones.
A highlight of the date is his recording of the extended composition "La Plus Belle Africaine," introduced on tour earlier in the year. It features John Lamb on a bowed bass solo, clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, and Harry Carney on baritone saxophone.
Friends since the 1930s, Ella and Duke only recorded later in their careers: first for their collaboration on the Ellington installation of her series of "Songbook" sets in 1957; during the "Ella at Duke's Place" recording in 1965; and earlier the same year of the Cote d'Azur recordings for the "Stockholm Concert." Clearly for these two, getting together was more than a casual gig. It was a opportunity to celebrate their combined contributions to the music.
Warm And Brilliant
Recording live to two-track stereo is no easy feat. The engineer has captured each instrument or voice with just the right microphone and equalization from the get-go. Even more challenging is capture the right balance among the many musicians to get the essence and clarity of the music. So it's a real pity that the engineer who did such a great job of recording Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington at the Antibes Jazz Festival in Juan-les-Pins, France has gone uncredited. From the original source tapes, the sound on these 180-gram LPs mastered by Kevin Gray and pressed at RTI in Camarillo is warm and brilliant.
Our set - available in an LP-only release --- includes 20 compositions, an historical analysis and track by track breakdown by Brian Preistly, plus many rarely seen photographs. It includes something else - history. Please don't miss owning it.