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From legendary combinations like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to the effervescent Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, performing in pairs has been a longstanding tradition in the history of jazz. With Jazz in July 2020 going fully online, the programming team at Esplanade saw the opportunity to shape a line-up of 43 jazz cats based in Singapore into 24 unique pairings, exploring the intimacies of the jazz duet that has been so integral to the history of the music.
We've taken the opportunity to quiz the artists on their favourite jazz duet numbers—let's jump right into it. (note: Log in to Spotify on your browser to play the full tracks from the embedded players)
We recommend: When Lights Are Low, from the album You Are There, performed by Roberta Gambarini and Hank Jones.
Why: Beyond just lyrics, we love how the dynamics between melody and accompaniment distil a mood so well.
We recommend: La Fiesta, from the album Duet, performed by Gary Burton and Chick Corea.
Why: (Ramu) I still cannot believe this recording was from 1979. I first heard this track by accident in a record store and absolutely fell in love with the sounds of the piano and the vibraphone. It led me to explore the vibraphone as a jazz instrument and this specific piece led me to my love of Latin jazz today. Do check out this recording, it still sounds fresh and energetic, no matter how many times I listen to it!
We recommend: Monk’s Dream, from the album Unity, performed by Larry Young and Elvin Jones.
Why: This track encompasses interactions of the highest level, in the form of ideas that are well articulated, crystal clear and moving in the same direction together, all in the moment.
We recommend: Heaven Wrote a Song, from the album Hard to Imagine. Performed by Alemay Fernandez, Richard Jackson & Chok Kerong.
Why: (Alemay) I recorded this with Richard Jackson in 2008. I was so inspired when I heard songwriter Sara Wee (53A) perform it at her LASALLE graduation recital the year before, I knew I just had to record it. When I first heard Richard Jackson's voice when he was singing at Harry's Bar, I knew I had to record it with him as a duet, along with Chok Kerong on piano. Best decision I've ever made.
We recommend: Body and Soul, from the album Duets II, performed by Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse.
Why: A quintessential composition in the jazz idiom.
We recommend: Maybe September, from the album Together Again, performed by Bill Evans and Tony Bennett.
Why: This is an album of two icons: Tony Bennett is one of the great vocal performers of The Great American Songbook and Bill Evans is an iconic jazz pianist of the 20th century.
We recommend: Ornithology, from the album Looking at Bird, performed by Archie Shepp and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.
Why: It is a treat to hear the great Archie Shepp, one of the great contributors of “avant-garde/free jazz”, in this setting where he pays tribute to the music of Charlie Parker, alongside bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.
We recommend: The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, from the album Newk’s Time, performed by Sonny Rollins and Philly Joe Jones.
Why: We love this duo performance because Rollins and Jones engage each other in such a masterful, nuanced way. They are fully immersed in each other's playing, without trying to fill up the space. They just sound like they're having so much fun!
We recommend: Redentor, from the album Ao Vivo, performed by Leny Andrade and Cesar Camargo Mariano.
Why: (Aya) I’ve been a huge fan of Cesar Camargo for years. I’m actually quite influenced by him.
We recommend: You Must Believe In Spring, from the album Together Again, performed by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans.
Why: The sincere artistry and mastery in both Bill Evans' playing and Tony Bennett's singing is reminiscent of the intimacy between Mario and I when we share the stage.
We recommend: My One And Only Love, from the self-titled album of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.
Why: The coming together of two undeniable geniuses.
We recommend: These Foolish Things [Live], from the album Ella Fitzgerald 1973, performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass.
Why: It's synergistic and exciting—this duet is a gorgeous paragon of what happens when two artists listen to and trust each other.
We recommend: I Was Doing All Right, from the album Work from Home with Oscar Peterson, performed by Oscar Peterson Trio with Louis Armstrong.
Why: (Nicole) This is a song that Christy and I connected over many years ago and we've been playing it since.
We recommend: I've Got The World On A String, from the album Fitzgerald & Pass...Again, performed by Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass.
Why: A clear display of how magical a jazz duet experience can be. Intimate yet so powerful.
We recommend: We'll Be Together Again, from the album We’ll Be Together Again, performed by Pat Martino and Gil Goldstein.
Why: Fantastic synergy between the two players and clearly audible instruments with a great mix and blend in the audio spectrum.
We recommend: Moose the Mooche, from the album Looking at Bird, performed by Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Archie Shepp.
Why: Because of the contrast between the "clean" bass and the "dirty" saxophone.
We recommend: My Favorite Things, from the album For Ella and Joe, performed by A Pair of Jazz
Why: My Favorite Things is undeniably still my favourite song from The Sound of Music and Eva’s scat is just so melodic and her phrasings are soulful.
We recommend: All The Things You Are, from the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Jerome Kern Songbook, performed by Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by an orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle.
Why: (Ernesto) All The Things You Are is one of the most recorded songs by jazz artists. The beauty lies in the lyrics and how each artist interprets the song.
We recommend: Fire Waltz, from the album After Hours, performed by Jeanne Lee and Mal Waldron.
Why: A mind-blowing wordless conversation that takes one through a gentle waltz culminating in a fever pitch sizzle.
We recommend: The Surrey with the Fringe on Top (03/03/1991 Second Set), from the album People Time, performed by Stan Getz & Kenny Barron.
Why: People Time is the album that was the main reference we used in our first duet show together two years back. It features masterful playing from both Getz and Barron—every single track is nothing short of excellent. It's a special album for both of us and knowing that it was also Getz's last recorded album before he passed makes it even more special.
We recommend: Quasimodo, from the album Birdsong, performed by Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Max Roach, Duke Jordan and Miles Davis.
Why: We share a common love for standards and bebop. Here, the great Charlie Parker takes the harmonic structure of George Gershwin’s beautiful ballad Embraceable You and creates his own sinuous and indelible melody.
We recommend: Someday My Prince Will Come, from the album Songs We Know, performed by Bill Frisell and Fred Hersch, and My Funny Valentine, from the album Undercurrent, performed by Bill Evans and Jim Hall.
Why: There’s a beautiful interplay between the masters.
We recommend: Let's Call The Whole Thing Off, from the album The Greatest Jazz Duets, performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
Why: It's our favourite jazz track! If we can bridge a difference with respect, it shouldn't matter how different we are.