Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are two names synonymous with Jazz. Their influence and impact on the music industry is both undeniable and unbelievable – still to this day, their music is adored.
Formed in 1984 by Chris Ludowyk, an extremely accomplished musician, The Syncopators have been jamming their way through Australia, playing everything from classic jazz to rhythm and blues. The band have toured internationally to much acclaim, and have produced eighteen CDs. Their current tour, a tribute to Jazz honouring Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, is an electrifying display of true talent.
Melbourne born Yvette Johansson will be joining Chris and The Syncopators, herself a well established performer known for her tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Her reputation as one of Melbourne’s premier vocalists precedes her, and this dazzling combination of skill and talent is definitely not one to miss.
I spoke to Chris and Yvette about all things Jazz in anticipation of their upcoming Morning Melodies performance at Arts Centre Melbourne.
Why do you think Jazz music is so timeless?
Chris: Jazz was born in the melting pot of ragtime, blues and the French/Spanish creole music of New Orleans and was unlike any music that preceded it. It had rhythm, melody, soul, improvisation, was originally for dancing and assumed a ‘classic’ aura – so much so that the gems of the early masters, Armstrong, Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington are regarded as classics and are emulated by many fine contemporary bands. Jazz, like any art form, is an evolving medium but the heroes of each style and their music will survive, as do the Classical Masters Bach Beethoven Mozart etc. Jazz is indeed timeless.
Yvette: Because the composers took such great care in crafting the songs and they were then recorded and performed, by musicians and singers, who invested their work, with great love and expertise. Those performances of the past, have created a very attractive mystique, around the songs and the history of the genre and the songs themselves, were so well-written, that no matter how many times they have been interpreted, by different performers, across different eras, they have retained a core of very high quality. In other words, the songs have substance!
How do you think Louis Armstrong as a performer has influenced modern music?
Chris: Modern music (Rock, R & B) is a direct descendent of jazz. Louis Armstrong, as jazz’s greatest creator, early trumpet virtuoso, inventor of ‘scat’ singing and consummate showman influenced not only generations of jazz trumpeters but artists like Bing Crosby and composers like Leonard Bernstein. Armstrong has thus directly or indirectly had a major influence on modern music.
How has Ella Fitzgerald influenced you as a singer?
Yvette: I really don’t know. It would be easier for an observer to determine. I think, I latched onto her because I was already inclined, to sing the way she sings, in many ways; with a strong sense of rhythm, feeling of swing and adherence to the beat; clear, smooth tone; vocal agility; clear diction; large range; a mix of very dynamic and very romantic musical material, for example. So if anything, listening to her, seems to have enhanced and sharpened all of those traits. (Plus, I can now do a “mean” Ella impersonation!) The inclination was already present in me, to sing that way; both from training and from musical taste so I sort of found a kindred spirit, in her.
Do you think that Big Bands will ever go out of style?
Chris: Big bands, of the size of the large ‘Swing’ bands of Benny Goodman and the Dorsey brothers, the jazz orchestras of Ellington and Basie all survived by playing for dancing which was the craze that could support the financing of these orchestras. As such, big bands are a niche product today and will continue to be so unless there is a mass revival of dancing. However, there is a groundswell of Swing dancing occurring around the world which is a good sign, an outlet for some of these niche bands and an introduction of this music to a whole new generation.
What can audiences expect from this performance?
Yvette: You’ll have to ask The Syncopators what they’ve got planned, for their band numbers but as for the songs I’ll be performing with them; they can expect, a number of duet’s, with Peter Gaudion, in the style of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and a couple of Ella numbers, on my own -most of them, well-loved and familiar standards and some of them, recreated, from the classic albums, Ella and Louis recorded together, in the mid-1950s; which happen to be, some of my favourite jazz recordings ever! In a nutshell: romance, nostalgia, a dash of dynamic swing and some playful repartee.
Chris: Audiences will be treated to the timeless beauty of some of Satchmo’s and Ella’s gems. The Syncopators and Yvette Johansson are the perfect match for this concert and the audience will depart with smiles on their faces and a tune on their lips.