On 15 August 1956 one of the jazz events of the decade took place, a concert that has been immortalised on record and CD as Jazz at The Hollywood Bowl.
The concert was staged by Norman Granz and followed the fifth Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Europe and preceded the Fall JATP tour of North America. The main stars of the Hollywood Bowl concert were Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Ella had been signed to Verve records at the start of the year and had already recorded her career defining Cole Porter songbook album; additionally both Ella and Louis were about to record together for Verve Records.
Louis is in “Herculean form” as Ricky Riccardi one of the world’s leading experts on Louis Armstrong puts it – it’s impossible to argue. Aside from the Ella and Satchmo the concert featured Art Tatum, Roy Eldridge, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Flip Phillips, Illinois Jacquet, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, Buddy Rich, Paul Smith, Joe Mondragon, Alvin Stoller, Trummy Young, Ed Hall, Billy Kyle, Dale Jones and Barrett Deems
The concert attracted a capacity audience of 20,000. When it was first released by Verve as a double album Jazz At the Hollywood Bowl the album omitted Louis Armstrong’s performance for contractual reasons. It would be four decades until it was issued on CD.
The original concert opened in true JATP style with a jam from the All-Star band. Roy Eldridge and Illinois Jacquet, along with Oscar Peterson and his trio (Herb Ellis and Ray Brown), plus Harry Edison, Flip Phillips and Buddy Rich. The three song setlasted close to 40 minutes and featured, ‘Honeysuckle Rose,’ followed by a beautiful ballad medley of, ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ ‘If I Had You’ and ‘I’ve Got the World on a String’” Their closer was, ‘Jumpin’ at the Woodside,’ and they certainly did with solo after blistering solo.
Art Tatum, a man who Granz considered a genius and the greatest pianist of all time was next. ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ ‘Begin the Beguine,’ ‘Willow Weep for Me’ and ‘Humoresque’ prove the point. Sadly it was 46-year-old Tatum’s second-to-last recording as he died three months later from uremic poisoning.
Ella closed the first half of the along with drummer Alvin Stoller, guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Joe Mondragon and pianist Paul Smith. She chose to open with two songs from the Cole Porter songbook ‘Love for Sale’ and ‘Just One of Those Things.’ Later in the set she does, ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,’ which includes a brilliant impersonation of Louis Armstrong. Her set concludes with, ‘Airmail Special’ that has Ella scatting at the top of her game. Genius!
Two short numbers by the Peterson Trio began the second half of the concert and both ‘9:20 Special’ and ‘How About You’ show what a beautiful lyrical pianist Oscar was.
And then it was time for Pops. His set was the longest of the evening and featured 13 songs. Along with Armstrong are trombonist Trummy Young, clarinettist Ed Hall, pianist Billy Kyle, Dale Jones on bass and drummer Barrett Deems, and they are all in spectacular form. Louis opens with his signature, ‘When It’s Sleepy Time Down South’ followed by ‘Indiana’, ‘The Gypsy,’ ‘Ole Miss Blues’ and ‘The Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.’ Pianist, Kyle takes the lead on ‘Perdido,’ then Ed Hall fronts, ‘You Made Me Love You’, before Armstrong does a brilliant reading of ‘Mack the Knife’ that he had had a hit with a year earlier. Drummer, Deems takes centre stage on, ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy,’ before Trummy Young’s ‘You Can Depend on Me.’ The band finishes their solo set with a short and very intense version of, ‘Mop Mop’.
Then it’s Pops and Ella to sing the very first song they recorded together, ‘You Won’t Be Satisfied’, back in 1946. They close with ‘Undecided’ before the entire cast do a 6 minute version of, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ This features a blistering solo from Armstrong, who was always at his best when surrounded by the best.
The following day both Ella and Louis were in the studio together. Granz had already planned this session and they were joined by Oscar Peterson’s trio, with the incomparable Buddy Rich on drums. When Ella and Louis came out it turned out to be a masterpiece.