The Art of the Duo

The following is a list of recordings by great improvisers who chose to collaborate in duo settings, often with one chord instrument (bass, guitar or piano) combined with a melody instrument (trumpet, voice, saxophone). Other duos combine two chord instruments – bass and guitar, or bass and piano. All of them are demonstrations of how great players can play an accompanying role with their instruments to the extent that traditional rhythmic accompaniment – drums or percussion – is not necessary. Duo playing is not just a specialty of virtuosic players, however; it is an essential skill for all jazz players, as it is a very typical situation in which working players find themselves, sometimes due to financial and space constraints of music venues, but also through artistic choice by performers who want to challenge themselves in a ‘less is more’ setting. I encourage you to listen to these recordings, and also to add comments mentioning great duo recordings in any style that you think should be added to this list.

Vocal / guitar duo

Ella Fitzgerald (voice) / Joe Pass (guitar) – Take Love Easy

Piano / guitar duo

Bill Evans / Jim Hall – Undercurrent

Fred Hersch (piano) / Bill Frisell (guitar) – Songs We Know

Bass / trumpet duo

Clark Terry (trumpet) / Red Mitchell (bass) – To Duke And Basie

Tenor saxophone / guitar duo

Zoot Sims (tenor saxophone) / Joe Pass (guitar) – Blues For Two

Blues for Two


Pennies From Heaven

Take Off

Vocal / bass duo

Sheila Jordan / Cameron Brown – I’ve Grown Accustomed to The Bass

Piano / bass duo

Duke Ellington / Ray Brown – This One’s for Blanton

Charlie Haden (bass) / Kenny Barron (piano) – Night and The City

Dave Holland (bass) / Kenny Barron (piano) – The Art of Conversation

Michel Petrucciani / Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen – Live

Kenny Drew / NHOP – Duo Live In Concert

Hank Jones / Red Mitchell – duo

Cedar Walton / David Williams – duo

Kenny Barron / Buster Williams – Two As One

Fred Hersch / Matt Kendrick – Other Aspects

Guitar / bass duo

Jim Hall / Ron Carter – Alone Together

Trumpet / piano duo

Weather Bird – Louis Armstrong / Earl Hines

Oscar Peterson and Dizzy Gillespie

Oscar Peterson (organ) and Roy Eldridge

Saxophone / bass duo

Archie Shepp and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen – Looking at Bird

Saxophone / piano duo

Kenny Barron / Stan Getz – People Time

Frank Morgan – You Must Believe In Spring

(alto sax/piano duets with Roland Hanna, Hank Jones, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Barron)

Many great examples of various duet formats:

Conversations with Christian (bassist Christian McBride with many duo collaborators)

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15 Responses to The Art of the Duo

  1. James Doherty says:

    I really enjoyed the album Take Love Easy with Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass. Neither Joe nor Ella overpower the other and they play really well off of each other. Ella’s vocals make it seem like she is having a conversation with/talking about someone at certain points.

  2. Jake M Landry says:

    Here are some great piano and guitar duos:
    Michel Petrucciani and Jim Hall “In A Sentimental Mood”
    Tommy Flanagan and Jim Hall “My One and Only Love”

  3. Daniel Reinstein says:

    Heres the link to the hella album!

  4. Liam Craddock says:

    Here’s a link to the Ed Blackwell & Dewey Redman Album

  5. Matt Blanchet says:

    I listened to ‘Afirika’ with Christian McBride and Angelique Kidjo. I really enjoyed the bass line Mcbride lays down throughout thee song because it lays down a clear rhythmic idea while also using a vaguer harmonic structure for Kidjo to play around with. Though McBride sticks with the same bassline throughout the song, it works extremely well with Kidjo’s voice as she fills in the space with vocal flourishes following the end of her phrases. I think it is particularly interesting to compare this duo combination with Mcbride and Brubeck on ‘Here comes McBride’ . In the Brubeck tune, McBride emphasizes the rhythm on the head with his bass slaps. However, he becomes free during the improvisational aspect of the song and takes on the role of a traditional bass player. Not only this but Brubeck’s choppy comping allows McBride to fill much more space than he was able to during ‘Afrika’.

  6. Justin Moyer says:

    I really enjoyed the Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines ‘Weatherbird’. I liked how well they played off each other. It gave a feeling like they were having a conversation, and they seemed much more connected with one another than a larger jazz combo

  7. Lara Cwass says:

    I love “Weather Bird,’ featuring Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines.
    Both Hine’s soloing (which includes left hand comping), and his comping for Armstrong, have an incredibly rich rhythmic foundation that gracefully carries the trumpet lines that ride over his playing. Armstrong’s style is also very rhythmic and seems to swing effortlessly. This creates a very full sounding duo, and leaves no thirst for further accompaniment on the listener’s end, because these two players fulfill many roles with just two instruments. Something else I should mention is the “tonal perfection” of this recording. I personally find that a horn and piano duo can sometimes clash with one another due to very stark differences in timbre. In this recording, the two instruments work absolutely beautifully together.

    I love this clip of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks together from the day that they performed at the White House for a blues event that Barack Obama hosted. Derek and Susan stepped aside before their large performance to do a quiet duo in private room. In this video, they play a song called “Rollin and Tumblin” which was a delta blues song originally recorded in 1929 by Hambone Willie Newbern, and later made famous by the blues legend, Muddy Waters. Derek’s playing is powerfully locked in (as always) to the feel of the tune, and he supports Susan’s vocals with great ease. Derek’s acoustic sound also blends very naturally with Susan’s soulful and full bodied voice.

  8. Erica Leiserowitz says:

    I really love the recording of Sheila Jordan and Cameron Brown. Voice and Bass are not a common duo, as far as I know, but it works really well here. I also am a huge My Fair Lady fan, so using that music and making a pun by changing it to “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” to “I’ve Grown Accustomed to the Bass” is really fun. The bass provides accompaniment for the singer, but also carries on a conversation with her.

    One of my favorite duos is Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. I love both of their works separately, but they work really well together. They’ve done a lot of albums together, but my favorite one is Not for Kids Only. It was my favorite thing to listen to when I was a kid. I love all the songs, but one that I think highlights the duo part is the song “Arkansas Traveler.”

    In the classical world, there are a lot of duets, but it’s often two instruments plus an accompaniment. There are duos, but again, it’s a soloist and an accompaniment. There was a “thing” in the classical world however, that featured actual duos, that several composers (notably Carl Maria Von Weber, Franz Liszt, Frederic Chopin) wrote. One that I like, is by Mauro Giuliani, which features guitar and flute.
    Here is the link to the Scherzo.

  9. Eli Lewis says:

    On “Undercurrent”, Jim Hall and Bill Evans Work have an interesting relationship. Sometimes Bill Evans is serving as the timekeeper and accompaniest, filling as much space as possible and walking the bass line. In these spots, Jim Hall is mainly playing single line ideas. It seems like in these scenarios, Bill Evans likes to get to the destination of the next chord before Jim Hall. Once Evans creates the underlying chord for the next note, Jim Hall hits it. When Evans takes solos, Jim Hall is mainly trying to establish basic rhythm. Since Evans does a lot of comping even when he is soloing, Jim Hall does not get too crazy with his accompaniment.

    One I would add to the list is Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan.

  10. tgcleary says:

    These are great duos to add to the list, Asa. Please add a link to one of the more standard tunes from one of the albums you mention and comment on the accompaniment styles used.

  11. tgcleary says:

    Hi Liam, Glad you are enjoying the duos. Please add a link to the Redman and Blackwell album.

  12. tgcleary says:

    Thanks for the comment, Daniel. Please add a link to the duo recording you mentioned. It might be helpful to a full band tune and a duo version of the same one to compare…

  13. Daniel Reinstein says:

    Please comment on how both members of the duo fill their accompanying roles:

    Both Hersch and Frisell cycle through a large variety of “conversational styles” on their recording of ‘Blue Monk’ off of ‘Songs We Know’. At points, one provides a polite comp for the others solo before quickly switching roles. At other times they suddenly slip into unison only to be followed by playing that seems to stumble yet somehow interlock like two drunk friends holding each other as they walk. It’s not just who plays the chords and who plays the notes. Both demonstrate an impressive ability to follow the other wherever they choose to go.

    add comments mentioning great duo recordings in any style that you think should be added to this list:

    Zach Hill and Spencer Seim re-recorded acoustic versions of songs from their band HELLA’s previous albums. I am particularly fond of this album because the duo somehow manages to sound like 2 drummers and 3 guitarists even though there is only one of each. It’s certainly not jazz, and can definitely be a bit grating to some, but as long as we’re talking about a duo’s ability to play together, this album needs to be mentioned.

  14. Asa Fulton says:

    Chick Corea and Bobby McFerrin’s live album, “Play” with piano and voice
    Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile on “Brad Mehldau & Chris Thile” with piano and mandolin

  15. Liam Craddock says:

    On the Oleo with Petrucciani and NHOP, both play more notes with more strongly rhythmic aspects than they would in the context of a larger ensemble, for the most part. the way they’re both almost continuously filling as they trade leads also makes the space feel a lot more dead and quiet when it does come. I spend a lot of time listening to duo albums, though mostly that still have drummers on them, so I’m really glad that this is something that you’ve decided to highlight to the class since there’s a lot of great stuff I haven’t heard before on this list. Red & Black In Willisau (Ed Blackwell & Dewey Redman) and Chops (Joe Pass & NHOP) are two of my personal favorites from high school. And it was actually Allison Miller (who you mentioned being at stowe this weekend) and Anat Cohen who got me into the idea of not only duos as a full band, but improvising from nothing for extended periods with only one other person, and I enjoy that as seen perfectly with the Petrucciani and NHOP Oleo, you get hear each musician really feel put the tune and stretch it and meld it in very unique ways.

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