1. Duke's Place
2. I'm Just a Lucky So and So
4. Mood Indigo
5. Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me
6. The Beautiful American
7. Black and Tan Fantasy
8. Drop Me Off in Harlem
9. The Mooche
10. In a Mellotone
11. It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing)
13. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
14. I'm Beginning to See the Light
15. Just Squeeze Me
16. I Got It Bad (And that Ain't Good)
18. Duke's Place
19. In a Mellotone
20. Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
Louis Armstrong - Vocals, trumpet
Duke Ellington - Piano
Trummy Young - Trombone
Barney Bigard - Clarinet (tracks 1-17)
Joe Darensbourg - Clarinet (tracks 18-20)
Mort Herbert - Bass (tracks 1-17)
Irvng Manning - Bass (tracks 18-20)
Danny Barcelona - Drums
For this 1961 meeting of perhaps the two greatest geniuses in jazz, Louis Armstrong brought his whole band: the All Stars. You might think that this gave Louis an advantage, but Ellington's hand was strengthened by the repertoire consisting wholly of Ducal compositions. Besides, the Duke knew one member of Louis' band - Barney Bigard - particularly well, since Bigard had played in the Duke's orchestra from 1927 to 1942.
The stage was thus set for a meeting of champions, in which they would work together rather than competing with one another. Most of the tunes may not have been in Armstrong's regular concert list, but he took them on with vigour and invention - not only singing but playing the trumpet. Every track has something to recommend it, so I shall just pick out some highlights.
Cottontail is a highlight all round: introduced by Duke with orchestral piano, followed by rollicking solos from Bigard, Armstrong and Young, after which Louis scats two wild choruses. Mood Indigo has a beautifully deep clarinet solo from Barney Bigard and a vocal by Armstrong which mixes approximate lyrics with scat. The Beautiful American is not to be confused with The Beautiful Indians which Duke first performed in the 1940s. The Beautiful American is a twelve-bar sequence introduced by Duke at the piano. Barney Bigard and Trummy Young improvise for a while but there is an air of expectation as one senses that Louis is about to enter, which he does after a dramatic delay.
Louis plays two choruses of Black and Tan Fantasy as if he has been playing it for years, and Barney Bigard's solo is New Orleans through and through. Bigard also supplies an imaginative solo on Drop Me Off in Harlem. Mort Herbert plays impressive double-time bass in The Mooche. Armstrong and Bigard have a wonderful conversation with their instruments on In a Mellow Tone. Louis makes the lyrics of I'm Beginning to See the Light typically his own ("Now that your chops are burning mine"). Louis' pre-eminence as a jazz singer is clear in I Got It Bad, which is so touching as to bring tears to the eyes. Ellington's piano accompaniment is superbly measured. Azalea is an attractive tune, although one feels pity for Armstrong having to rhyme "azalea" with "failure", "regalia" and "assail yer".
On most tunes, Duke Ellington supplies the sort of backing which his orchestra would have provided if it had been present. This reissue includes three bonus tracks. The first two had Louis and the Duke promoting this album on the Ed Sullivan Show. The last is by Louis alone with the studio orchestra.
Summit meetings are few and far between. This summit makes me feel that there should have been many more such summits before we lost these two unique individuals.