Like oil and vinegar, vocalist Ella Fitzgerald and trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong were a perfect mix. She sang with impeccable finesse; he performed with gravel-rough sophistication. Their duet albums from the late 1950s are magical.
The two are celebrated tomorrow night when vocalist Patti Austin and trumpeter Byron Stripling perform a pops concert with the Toledo Symphony at the Stranahan Theater.
Similarities between the four musicians cross the generations. Like Fitzgerald, Austin made her debut at Harlem's Apollo Theatre, but while Fitzgerald was 17, Austin was 4. Armstrong had only a few brief stints on Broadway and always aspired to more there; in the late 1980s Stripling attempted to make Armstrong a Broadway fixture when he starred in the musical Satchmo.
The lives of both Austin and Stripling reveal the depth and breadth of the jazz network that Armstrong and Fitzgerald helped to create a generation earlier.
Fitzgerald's 1936 Apollo performance is legendary. She appeared as an unknown teenager during an amateur night contest. She won, of course, and within the year would be fronting the famed big band of drummer Chick Webb. Austin, whose career would have to wait a few years, was brought out onto the Apollo stage by her godmother, Dinah Washington.
Born in 1901, Armstrong grew up in the rough-and-tumble emerging jazz scene of New Orleans. He learned by doing and never even learned to read music.
Stripling cut his musical teeth in the erudite chambers of Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy and the renowned Eastman School of Music.
Austin honored Fitzgerald with the 2002 release of the album "For Ella," which includes such classics from the Fitzgerald songbook as "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" and "Love Is Here to Stay."
Stripling is a former member of the Count Basie Orchestra. He has played and recorded with Dizzie Gillespie, Woody Herman, and others.
Jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are celebrated when vocalist Patti Austin and trumpeter Byron Stripling join conductor Chelsea Tipton II and the Toledo Symphony at 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Stranahan Theater. Tickets range from $25 to $50. Information: 419-246-8000.
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