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Jazz Profiles from NPR
Louis Armstrong: The Duets
Produced by Jim Luce, Dick Golden, and Joan Merrill

Louis Armstrong  

When musicians such as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and Jacky Teagarden sang or played duets with Louis Armstrong, their careers took dramatic upswings. To sing or play alongside Satchmo was to bolster your musical career and bask in the glow of musical greatness.

The first of these inventive and swinging collaborations was recorded in 1925, and it featured the New Orleans native in tandem with the equally influential blues vocalist, Bessie Smith. This version of W.C. Handy's classic "St. Louis Blues" highlighted the trumpeter's now nuanced, now declamatory instrumental approach, and Smith's arresting vocals.

Towards the end of the 1920s, Armstrong teamed up with legendary pianist and bandleader Earl "Fatha" Hines in Chicago. The two made the perfect combination. Their recordings of "Weatherbird" and "Muggles" were then and are still today considered landmark examples of cohesive and inventive ensemble and solo work.

Listen to Armstrong biographer Laurence Bergreen and Hines discuss the collaborations between Fatha and Satchmo

Satchmo took a brief break from recording on his own in 1936 when he visited Hollywood. But his collaborative efforts continued -- he produced remarkable recordings with songwriter Hoagy Carmichael and singer Danny Kaye.

Listen to jazz historian Dan Morgenstern discuss the duets between Armstrong and Carmichael

Jack Teagarden  

In the mid-1930s, Armstrong joined Bing Crosby in the studio numerous times and both entertainers starred in the film Pennies From Heaven. Satchmo also began working with Jack Teagarden (left), a trombonist and singer, who would go on to record frequently with Armstrong throughout his career.

Listen to Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers discuss the tenuous working relationship between Teagarden and Armstrong

In 1935, Armstrong started recording for Decca Records. Nine years later, Decca released his first duet with Ella Fitzgerald, "You Won't Be Satisfied." Three years later, Armstrong had the opportunity to record with the woman who always gave him full credit for influencing her innovative vocal style -- Billie Holiday.

Ella Fitzgerald  

The beginning of the 1940s saw Armstrong continuing his work with "The First Lady of Song" -- Ella Fitzgerald (left), a partnership that produced the albums Ella and Louis and their classic interpretation of George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

Listen to jazz historian Dan Morgenstern and Ella Fitzgerald talk about the Ella and Louis sessions

In 1961, Armstrong recorded with another master of American music, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, and in that same year, his contribution was an integral part of a session with pianist Dave Brubeck, his wife, Iola, and vocalist Jon Hendricks (among others) titled The Real Ambassadors.

Not long before his death in July of 1971, Satchmo culminated his career with a record date and birthday party attended by both avant-garde performers, like saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and traditional jazz musicians, like trumpeter Reuben "Ruby" Braff. This was truly a fitting celebration for an artist whose body of work continues to influence every aspect of jazz, particularly the duet.

Listen to Armstrong's friend and confidant, Jack Bradley recall the wonderful birthday bash


View the Louis Armstrong: The Duets show playlist


More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Web site --

More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Feature on Louis Armstrong

More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Profiles show summary on Louis Armstrong: The Trumpeter

More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Profiles show summary on Louis Armstrong: The Singer

ListenListen to the NPR 100 feature on Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues"

ListenListen to the NPR 100 feature on Louis Armstrong's "Hello Dolly"

ListenListen to the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library entry for the The Complete Hot Fives and Hot Sevens Recordings

ListenListen to the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library entry for Louis Armstrong's CD The Best of the Decca Years


More InfoThe Official Site for The Louis Armstrong House & Archives