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Ella Fitzgerald & Mel Tormé Answer “What Is Jazz?”

This is wonderful: at the 1976 Grammys, Mel Tormé asked Ella Fitzgerald how she explains to people what jazz is and then the pair of them effortlessly launch into a scat duet that is just fantastic to listen to. Ella Fitzgerald, what a voice! Mel Tormé, what a voice! Here’s the pair performing together in the 60s:

Discussion  7 comments


That was wonderful! I love how Mel just followed her lead - and Ella, my goodness. Her range was incredible.

Side note: Mel's nickname was the Velvet Fog and when I was a kid I thought it was the Velvet Frog which was extremely confusing for a singer but also sounded like it would be a lot of fun to have as a pet.

Side note 2: Apparently Harry Anderson's love of Tormé - and the frequent mentions on Night Court - led to an uptick in the singer's popularity late in life.

Jason KottkeMOD

I watched Night Court religiously as a kid/teen and that's how I know about Tormé and his nickname. He was also on a season 6 episode of Seinfeld:

Mel Tormé's performance of "When You're Smiling" was done in a single take before a live studio audience.

PDX Phil

Made my day! They are stunning apart, and something un-word-able together. I worked an outdoor music festival in the Chicago 'burbs and had the honor of seeing Mel Torme up close as he sang, led the band, play drums, and was just generally amazing in the late 80's.

Tim CarmodyMOD

Mel had some game

Luke Davis

Straight up goosebumps.

🏆 👍 🤯  comment

Harry Anderson is absolutely the reason I have more than a dozen Mel Tormé records, though given that I asked for Ella's Cole Porter songbook LPs for my 11th birthday, it was probably always gonna happen anyway.

Anyway, as a singer who started out as a dancer, I want to highlight the world-beating rhythmic instincts both of these singers had. Scatting is pitch, yeah, and it's timbre, and color, but knowing when to front foot the beat, when to backphrase, when to hit it right on the freckle on the nose is, to me, what takes a performance from incredible to sublime.

To whit: listen to how Ella drags "I've Got You under My Skin" out and then precisely back into time starting about 2:04 in this live recording from 1964. She's playing with the meaning of the lyrics ("but each time I do just the thought of you makes me...") and with the meta-textual reality that she has just sung a whole verse in cut time and it's time to give the audience a break by returning to the ballad tempo them song started out in. Plus, the way she and the drummer land on "got you"? I feel it in my gut every time. Sublime.

Larry Garretson

It is crazy that they have almost the same range. (!) He is reaching to her highs, she's stooping to match his deeps. And for most of it, they're right in the pocket together. Wild. I never would have predicted that.

This thread is closed for new comments & replies. Thanks to everyone for participating!