In the 1940s and ’50s, jazz stars Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald combined their exceptional talents for duo recordings. Released by the Decca and Verve labels, the collaborations include the classic mid-’50s albums “Ella and Louis” and “Ella and Louis Again.”
Inspired by the Armstrong-Fitzgerald recordings, Mitchell Player formed the Ella and Louie Tribute Band two years ago. A bassist, Player also appears regularly at Preservation Hall with Leroy Jones and Shannon Powell.
The Ella and Louie Tribute Band, Player said last week, “has been a dream of mine for so long. It’s still like a dream, now that it’s happening and progressing.”
Besides Player, the band includes vocalist Eileina Dennis; singer-trumpeters Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown and Wendell Brunious; and drummer Gerald French.
Specializing in music Armstrong and Fitzgerald recorded together and apart, the Ella and Louie Tribute Band has performed in Brazil, Switzerland, at the French Quarter Festival and at the Nickel-A-Dance Sunday afternoon jazz series on Frenchmen Street.
Satchmo SummerFest, founded in tribute to Armstrong and scheduled around his birthday, Aug. 4, is a natural fit for the band. The group made its SummerFest debut last year.
“People loved it, so it was a huge validation for me,” Player said.
Player and the band return to Satchmo SummerFest at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1. Jewel Brown, the Houston singer who worked with Armstrong’s band in the 1960s, will be its special guest.
In addition to Saturday’s SummerFest show, the Ella and Louie Tribute Band is playing a two-night stand, Saturday and Sunday, at the Little Gem Saloon. Those engagements will feature excerpts from “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” the Armstrong- and Fitzgerald-inspired play by Arkansas’ Kyle T. Miller.
As much as Player admires Armstrong’s and Fitzgerald’s artistry, bassist Ray Brown’s participation in the pair’s recordings piqued his interest. Brown — Fitzgerald’s husband from 1947 to 1952 — is Player’s favorite bass player.
“And then, loving the music of Ella and Louie, I just thought, ‘Oh, I’d love to have a band like that,’ ” Player said.
But a tribute band alone didn’t seem enough to Player. He later thought that a band plus a play makes a more complete homage. With that idea in mind, Player called Miller, a friend, about four years ago.
“I said, ‘Can you write a play, inspired by those recordings of Ella and Louie?’ He’d already been doing these Broadway-type shows.”
Miller had always wanted to stage a production involving jazz, but nothing he’d try clicked.
“When I mentioned this idea to Kyle,” Player said, “he was like, ‘Man, I love it, and I can’t wait.’ ”
But writing a play or a musical takes time. It seemed like a very long time to Player. Working as a New Orleans jazz musician, he’s accustomed to things coming together swiftly.
“So I told Kyle,” Player said, “‘Well, look. I’m going to put the band together now. We’re going to start playing. I’ll be polishing the band while you’re writing the play.’
“Of course, Ella and Louie, we can never be them,” said Player, with obvious respect. “But a bit of the spirit that they passed on to us, as musicians, we can do the best we can to capture that.”