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
Gary Burton / Chick Corea – Crystal Silence
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
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)
Bass Trombone & Guitar:
You might enjoy this group where the partners are balanced, and the bass trombonist covers melody and bass in the manner of Bobby McFerrin. Featured guitar soloists include South Florida GREATS: Tom Lippincott, Mitch Farber or Lindsey Blair!
The performances of Kenny Barron and Stan Getz stand out to me in that they serve as perfect balance for each other while refusing to give up their individuality. Their recording of “Soul Eyes” on March 4th, 1991 serves as a fantastic example of this, where they play the head, Stan Getz solos, and then drops out for the rest of the tune. Through the head in, it is clear to me that the piano is allowing the saxophone free space to loosen the phrasing of the melody, only jumping in with countermelodies that build on Stan Getz’s phrasing. During Getz’s solo, it seems to me that Kenny Barron is putting most of his thought towards directing the changes clearly and keeping time, not necessarily elaborating on Getz’s lines (although he does that too). After the solo, Stan Getz does not come back in, Kenny Barron plays the last phrase of the melody at the end of his solo and goes into a separate outro, independent of the tune’s changes. This makes me wonder how the two of them made the choice to play the form in this way, as it would have been a common choice to have the saxophone come back in to play the melody on the way out. I think it is likely that the choice was made for the sake of time and possibly to intentionally avoid restatement of ideas and allow two different players to phrase (or choose not to phrase) the melody.
Sheila Jordan / Cameron Brown – ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to The Bass’ .
I was immediately drawn to the way Sheila uses her voice almost like elastic – bending and stretching it without losing sight of the melody or rhythm. Her scatting is highly creative and never overdone. At times, her sound is theatrical (with how she takes pauses and communicates with the audience) and very expressive. At times, I forgot I was listening to a human voice – she would fit right in with the horn section and Brown is comping along perfectly. Jordan uses scat syllables I’ve never heard before and it was awesome, even fitting in with other jazz tunes (‘Embraceable You’) within the current song she is singing (‘The Bird’).
I enjoyed the lyrics – she’s very playful and clearly having fun throughout the recordings, even singing about wanting to play a bass and vocal duo for a while! ‘Mourning song’ is a beautiful piece dedicated to all the musicians she is inspired by – a pretty neat idea for a song. Brown seems to really respond to her wistful melodies in this one with his low tones – allowing her musical ideas to linger even longer…giving it a pretty eerie feel. This flows nicely into the next tune, ‘The Bird’, another tribute. “Lord knows I never got any [alimony]….and lord knows I tried’, Jordan shares with the audience.. She’s
so funny. She’s also very honest and is unafraid to share about her life during ‘Sheila’s Blues’ – her singing style is similar to storytelling.
I liked how as Brown is descending with the bass, as Sheila ascends in pitch with her voice – widening the space between the instruments and adding a nice contrasting section in ‘The Very Thought of You’. I especially enjoyed the bits where Jordan is sustaining her notes, while Brown is maintaining the rhythm – the parts fit together really nicely.
During ‘Better than anything’, I enjoyed the rhythmic way she produced and repeated the “better than _____” lyrics, maintaining a triplet feel. Here, Jordan and Brown are rhythmically in unison and it was exciting.
Though not a traditional duo, the bass and voice go quite nicely together – and makes the music sound more vulnerable and exposed overall – and adding a little more drama and suspense. Alternating between the bass and voice in throughout the recordings was really captivating for me as a listener. At the times, the duo felt truly haunting..
And of course, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to the Bass’ sums it all up perfectly – showing off the different features of bass playing and how seamlessly Sheila Jordan and Cameron Brown are able to communicate with each other on their respective instruments.
Another excellent duo that I’d add to the list would be Bobby McFerrin and Esperanza Spalding’s performance at the 53rd Grammys in 2011. It’s a lot of fun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17lpfvyWhhM
I listened to Zoot Sims and Joe Pass playing Dindi. During the A section the guitarist plays straight chords while the sax plays the melody. During the bridge the guitarist adds more of a bossa rhythm to his playing and then goes back to the straight rhythm for the last A. I noticed that during the sax solo the guitarist played the changes but with a bit more freedom and rhythm than the changes played during the melody. It also seems that the guitarist added some filler licks and chromatic notes. I felt that the added chord “decorations” from the guitarist do not overshadow the sax soloing. During the guitar solo the sax does not play at all. Instead the guitarist uses chord melody and chord soloing to keep the rhythm and changes in his solo.
During the Clark Terry and Red Mitchell duo on “I got it bad” by Duke Ellington, I noticed that one of 3 things happened. The bass held the lead, the trumpet held the lead, or the trumpet and bass were together. One example of them being together is when they both walk up a scale towards the beginning of the song. When the bass had the lead, the trumpet still played melodic lines but they were shorter and farther in between. When the trumpet had the lead, the bass started comping with roots and chords on the beat and filling in spaces melodically.
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.
Here are some great piano and guitar duos:
Michel Petrucciani and Jim Hall “In A Sentimental Mood” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djhBVRK4zLk
Tommy Flanagan and Jim Hall “My One and Only Love” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHD_9ax5Gr0
Heres the link to the hella album!
Here’s a link to the Ed Blackwell & Dewey Redman Album
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’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7gXNH5zgno . 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’.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hi Liam, Glad you are enjoying the duos. Please add a link to the Redman and Blackwell album.
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…
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.
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
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.