Duke Ellington (Al Hibbler/ David Lennick/ Duke Ellington/ Duke Ellington Orchestra/ Joya Sherrill/ Ray Nance/ Rex Stewart/ Taft Jordan) (Naxos: 8.120809)
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DUKE ELLINGTON Vol.9
'Black, Brown and Beige' Original Recordings 1943-1945
In Duke Ellington's life, 1943 would be bestremembered for his debut at Carnegie Hall. The23 January concert was highlighted by Ellington'sfifty-minute three-part work Black, Brown andBeige, which sought to musically sum up theblack experience in the United States. For mostmusicians, such an auspicious occasion could bethe highpoint of their career, followed by agradual decline and regular revisits to pastglories. But for Duke Ellington, it was justanother stepping stone in a long musical journey.
Edward Kennedy Ellington was born 29 April1899 in Washington D.C. Although he thoughtof becoming an artist, after the youthexperienced the music and the lifestyle of localpiano 'professors', he knew that music was goingto be his calling. Ellington (who gained hislifelong nickname 'Duke' due to the classy waythat he handled himself) actually started hisprofessional career before he was really readyand when he only knew a few songs on piano.
He took out the largest ad possible in the localYellow Pages, one which extolled the virtues ofhis orchestra even though it did not exist. Whenmany calls came in, Ellington organized severalbands, appearing with each one playing the fewsongs he knew before heading out to make anappearance at the next job.
Obviously that situation could not last forlong, so Ellington worked hard to develop hisplaying, greatly broadening his repertoire andwriting songs of his own, starting with the 1917\Soda Fountain Rag". He was making acomfortable living when in 1922 he accepted anoffer to join clarinettist Wilbur Sweatman's bandin New York. After that group's breakup, Dukereturned home but came back to New York in1923 as a member of Elmer Snowden'sWashingtonians. The band caught on and, whena money dispute resulted in Snowden departing,Ellington became its leader. During a three-yearstint at the Kentucky Club (1924-27), theWashingtonians developed their own musicalpersonality (featuring the remarkable sounds oftrumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist TrickySam Nanton), the band made its first recordingsand Ellington became an important arrangercomposer.
After being hired as the house bandat the Cotton Club in December 1927, DukeEllington's orchestra through its radio broadcastsbecame nationally famous while its many uniquerecordings made it a household name overseasby the early 1930s.
Duke Ellington's prime years both precededand long outlasted the swing era. As a pianist,he began as a stride player yet always remainedmodern. His wide range of compositions includedthree-minute instrumental gems, songs thatcaught on as standards, impressionistic piecesand extended works. Ellington's arranging abilitywas particularly original and allowed him to blendtogether unique solo talents to form a unifiedensemble sound. And as a bandleader, hisorchestra was always near the top of its field andin its own category, whether it was 1927 or 1967.
With the exception of the Black, Brown andBeige excerpts, the music on Vol. 9 in this series iscomprised of radio transcriptions, performancesrecorded specifically to be played on the radio asopposed to commercially available records. InNovember 1943, the 44-year old bandleader,despite the recent losses of tenor-saxophonistBen Webster and clarinettist Barney Bigard, stillfeatured ten major soloists: trumpeters TaftJordan, Ray Nance and Shorty Baker, cornetistRex Stewart, the very different trombone styles ofTricky Sam Nanton and Lawrence Brown,clarinettist Jimmy Hamilton, altoist JohnnyHodges, baritonist Harry Carney and Dukehimself on piano.
The 8 November session is a bit unusual inthat 26-year old Dizzy Gillespie was subbing inthe trumpet section (Nance and Baker wereabsent), but unfortunately the bop innovator wasgiven no solo space. Rockin' In Rhythm, firstrecorded by Duke in 1930, was used as a setopener for decades and served as an excellentway to introduce the Ellington Orchestra.
Lawrence Brown is heard early on and Tricky SamNanton takes a chorus later in the performance.
Boy Meets Horn, first recorded in 1938, wasalways a feature for cornetist Rex Stewart'sunusual half-valve technique. By using alternatefingerings, Stewart's bent notes had their ownparticular flavour and his lengthy solo on thetranscription date differs quite a bit from theoriginal popular recording. Altoist JohnnyHodges, whose tone has never been surpassed, isin the spotlight throughout Hop, Skip And Jump,a song that was renamed "Rockabye River" whenit was commercially recorded in 1946.
Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me wasoriginally an instrumental showcase for trumpeterCootie Williams in 1940 when it was known as"Concerto For Cootie". After being given wordsby Bob Russell and a new title, it became astandard; singer Al Hibbler and trombonistBrown are the stars of this version. Mary LouWilliams, who at the time was the wife oftrumpeter Harold 'Shorty' Baker (who ironicallywas not present that day), arranged Blue Skiesfor the Ellington band. It would later be renamed"Trumpets No End" and have more of a focus onthe trumpeters. For this early rendition, Ellington,Taft Jordan, Lawrence Brown, the obscure tenorsaxophonistElbert 'Skippy' Williams (who fareswell), Rex Stewart, Johnny Hodges and JimmyHamilton get their spots. Mood Indigo, one ofEllington's most famous compositions, wasrecorded many times after its 1930 debut. Thisfive-minute version, with lead trumpeter WallaceJones, Harry Carney (on clarinet) and the pianistin prominent roles, is definitive.
Three Cent Stomp, which is similar to theearlier "Stompy Jones," has brief but hotmoments from the likes of Harold 'Shorty' Baker,Tricky Sam Nanton, Ray Nance, bassist JuniorRaglin, Rex Stewart and Skippy Williams.
Caravan, which became a standard shortly afterits 1936 debut, is still one of the most exoticpieces in jazz. Valve trombonist Juan Tizol, whocomposed the classic, is featured in the melodystatement and followed by clarinettist JimmyHamilton (already the most modern musician inthe band next to the leader), Nance on violinand trumpeter Baker, all of whom areaccompanied by inspired backing from Ellington.
It Don't Mean A Thing, which predicted theswing era back in 1932, went through a greatdeal of evolution through the years. Thisrunthrough has Ray Nance and Taft Jordansharing the opening vocal and later trading offon violin and trumpet before Skippy Williamshelps bring the piece to a climax. HoweverTricky Sam Nanton steals the show in the secondchorus. No one ever sounded quite like him.
Creole Love Call, an Ellington favourite from1927, revives the original 'jungle style' of theearly band. Wallace Jones is quite effective ontrumpet, and there are spots for Nanton, Carney(on clarinet) and a trombone duet by Brown andTizol. Finishing the 1943 portion of thiscompilation is Rose Room. Originally a featurefor Duke's former clarinettist Barney Bigard,Jimmy Hamilton starts out in Bigard's rolebefore Brown and Hodges get their say.
The remainder of the collection featuresDuke Ellington's orchestra during December1944 and January 1945 playing excerpts from hisBlack, Brown And Beige. Highlights of the fiftyminutework, which was never recorded incomplete form in the studio by Ellington(although the Carnegie Hall version was releaseddecades later), is heard here in six parts totalling18 minutes plus Carnegie Blues which is anextension of Come Sunday. These portions givelisteners the essence of the work which includesthe atmospheric Work Song, the beautiful hymnCome Sunday (featuring altoist Hodges andNance's violin) and Joya Sherrill singing TheBlues.
The music throughout this collection is consistentlyremarkable, but only a small samplingof the enormous output of Duke Ellington, atrue music