years after the fact, Skitch Henderson, guest conductor of
the San Antonio Symphony, still joked about the reception
accorded the Count Basie Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald during
a joint appearance in the Alamo City on a cold and rainy night
in December 1979. “I think there were more people onstage
than in the audience,” Henderson said around the time
of a Fitzgerald American Masters broadcast on PBS in 1999.
I suspected correctly that this would be the only
opportunity to photograph these two jazz masters from
the swing era together. The highlight was the rehearsal,
where one could observe up close the personal and
musical details of putting together a program. The
main purpose of the rehearsal was literally to bring
the San Antonio Symphony up to speed on the arrangements.
They had arrived a few weeks before, and the orchestra
had familiarized itself with the material. It was
up to Fitzgerald’s musical director and accompanist
Paul Smith and Henderson to set the tempos for the
Basie band needed no such prepping, given the regularity with
which it and Fitzgerald played together during this period.
(Excellent live examples can be found on two albums, Jazz
at the Santa Monica Civic ’72, Pablo CD 2625701 
and ‘79 Montreux album title A Classy Pair, Pablo CD 2312110 [from a July 1979 concert
at the Montreux Jazz Festival].
If the orchestra expected a cursory run-through, they were
treated instead to a private concert. Fitzgerald, an unpretentious
perfectionist and workaholic who loved nothing more than
to sing, held nothing back as she sang each number in its
entirety with the exception of those she would perform with
the Basie band only. The evening went just as smoothly,
topper being a Jazz at the Philharmonic-style jam session
finale with Fitzgerald going head to head with soloists
from the Basie band. At one point during the show’s
conclusion, the two stars joined together onstage as Basie
lovingly applauded Fitzgerald and kept the coals of his
big band red hot under her vocals.
There was no greater love, either on stage or among the
select who had dragged themselves to the concert on that
cold December night in Texas.