I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Ella and Louis were born in the `70s or `80s. Does anybody think that either of them would have stood a snowball's chance in Hell of being recognized for their immense talents? We live in a television age, a video-friendly age, an age that puts physical appearance before talent; that puts followers ahead of leaders. With her comparably plain looks, would anybody glance twice at Ella, or listen enough to realize her gift? Would Louis' ebullience be enough to propel him into the limelight, or would he be forced to succumb to producers and commercial sponsors? It's a sorry comment on today's music marketplace to consider that two of the most talented musicians of this century might not have even got their due if they were born too late, but we must be grateful that they came along when they did. We also must be willing to go back and listen as often as we can, so that we don't lose track of musicianship as grand and wonderful as theirs was.
Ella and Louis Sing Gershwin is a collection that is cobbled together from various other releases, including Porgy and Bess, Louis Armstrong meets Oscar Peterson, and of course, the duo's two sublime, rapturous duet albums and Ella's Gershwin songbook. Each of these albums is a work of art in and of itself, so any compilation of their fruits simply cannot be anything but brilliant. I will admit that I bought this because I believed it to contain unique material, so I was initially disappointed to discover that it recycled material from familiar sources, but when the music is this good, how can I complain? "They Can't Take That Away From Me" is the definitive version of the tune, as is "Love Is Here to Stay," and "S'Wonderful." From the intimacy of a four-piece combo to full-blown orchestral arrangements, the collection runs a wide dynamic range. Nelson Riddle's touch is particularly apparent on "S'Wonderful," with an arrangement that suggests the dynamic majesty of his work on Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin." You don't have to pay homage when you listen, but it is hard not to be awed, especially from today's perspective. We surely do not have a modern-day equivalent of Louis and Ella, so I suggest that you make the best of the situation and enjoy this collection for the wonder that it is. A+ Tom Ryan