For the first time, all of Fitzgerald and Armstrong’s classic duets are in one place: Cheek To Cheek: The Complete Duet Recordings, a new 4CD and digital set will be available November 10.
Part of Ella 100, Verve Records/UMe’s yearlong celebration of Fitzgerald’s centennial, the 75-track collection gathers their three timeless Verve albums – newly remastered versions of Ella and Louis, Ella and Louis Again and Porgy and Bess – along with all of their Decca singles, live recordings from Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl, recorded as a warmup for Ella and Louis, plus several alternates and false starts from the Decca and Verve eras, illuminating their craft and good humor. Cheek To Cheek also includes unreleased material: “The Memphis Blues,” with Bing Crosby, from his radio show; several takes of Armstrong’s solo showcase, “Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess;” and an instrumental mix of “Red-Headed Woman.”
Armstrong and Fitzgerald were first paired together by Decca label head Milt Gabler when they were both recording for the label. For the inaugural session in January 1946, Gabler had them cut the new song “You Won’t Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart)” and a recent Nat King Cole hit, “The Frim Fram Sauce.”
The former became a jukebox hit and hinted at the magic they could create together. Over the next few years they would reunite for a string of singles – all eight are presented here in order of release – before recording their first album together. Fitzgerald’s manager Norman Granz, on the heels of founding Verve Records with his highly successful first release, Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Song Book, put Fitzgerald and Armstrong in the studio on August 16, 1956 to record the entire eleven-song Ella and Louis album in a day.
The record was a critical and commercial success when released in the fall of 1956. Down Beat gave it five stars and, in November, the album hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Jazz charts. The night before recording the album, Fitzgerald and Armstrong performed together at the Hollywood Bowl, and these rare, impromptu performances of “You Won’t Be Satisfied,” along with “Undecided,” marking their earliest collaborative recordings for Granz, are included on the fourth disc.