ELLINGTON, Duke: Air Conditioned Jungle

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Vol. 10

'Air Conditioned Jungle' - Original Recordings 1945

1945 was the beginning of the end of the swing era. Withintwo years, most of the top swing orchestras broke up, and those that somehow survivedeither became bebop-oriented or purely nostalgic affairs. Even most of theremaining big bands had to call it quits during 1949-50. But as with many otherareas of his life, Duke Ellington defied the rules and stood alone, keeping hisorchestra together up until the time of his death in 1974.

Duke Ellington, who turned 46 in 1945, at that point in timecould already look back on twenty years of major accomplishments and yet hiscareer was not even half over. Born 29 April 1899 in Washington D.C., Edward Kennedy Ellington originally planned to become an artist. But after seeing thelocal pianists perform ragtime and stride, and enjoying the joyfulness of theirmusic and their lifestyle, he switched permanently to music. Nicknamed 'Duke'due to his classy nature, Ellington learned to play stride piano by slowingdown James P. Johnson piano rolls to half-speed. He first became a bandleader beforehe knew very many songs by having the courage (or recklessness) to take out alarge ad in the Yellow Pages about his band, which did not exist yet.

In 1922, Ellington first visited New York during a shortstint with clarinettist Wilbur Sweatman. He returned in 1923 as a member of ElmerSnowden's Washingtonians, taking over the band a year later after a moneydispute. Duke's piano skills were developing quickly by then and he was in theearly stages of becoming an innovative arranger-composer. The Washingtonians werebased at the Kentucky Club during 1924-27, a period when Ellington made hisfirst recordings. By 1926 he had formed his 'jungle sound', using theotherworldly tonal distortions of trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist TrickySam Nanton which they created through their expertise with the plunger mute.

Ellington's big break occurred in December 1927 when hisorchestra became the house band at the Cotton Club, a longterm engagement that exposedhis band to a large audience on a regular basis on the radio. By 1929, Duke Ellingtonwas considered both a musical genius and a household name. As his orchestragained in popularity during the 1930s through tours, recordings and movieappearances, many of Ellington's songs became standards. As a pianist,composer, arranger and bandleader, Duke Ellington was considered a musicalgiant before the swing era even began. His ability to blend together a widevariety of musical voices (ranging from primitive players to virtuosos) into aunified whole was unparalleled.

As 1945 began, Duke Ellington's orchestra was still in peakform. While most jazz historians consider the 1939-42 version to be hisgreatest, the 1945 band was on the same level. The team of Ellington and BillyStrayhorn were still composing three-minute gems, some of which became futurestandards. Clarinettist Barney Bigard and tenor-saxophonist Ben Webster were gonebut their successors (clarinettist Jimmy Hamilton and Al Sears on tenor) were comparable.

One missed the late great bassist Jimmy Blanton, but the trumpet section withits four distinctive soloists (everyone but the nonsoloing Shelton Hemphill)was actually superior to that in the earlier band.

The music on 'Air Conditioned Jungle' is mostly drawn fromradio transcriptions rather than commercial recordings, with the exception of aselection taken from a radio broadcast and the two unusual items with TommyDorsey. Radio transcriptions were performances recorded specifically for radioairplay but not available for purchase by the general public during an era whenregular studio recordings were not played on the air. Quite often the radio transcriptionswere less commercial and better recorded technically.

Billy Strayhorn's swinging 'Midriff', is most notable forLawrence Brown's melodic trombone chorus, a fine statement that stayed pretty similarthroughout the year. Nineteen-year-old Joya Sherrill, the band's new vocalist,embraces the melody and lyrics of 'I Didn't Know About You', a performance thatalso co-stars Brown. Originally the lyrical Ellington ballad was an instrumentalcalled 'Sentimental Lady'.

'I'm Beginning To See The Light', although composed by Ellington,was initially a giant hit for Harry James. The song was so popular in 1945 thatDuke often used it as an alternate radio theme in addition to "Take The 'A'Train".

One of Duke Ellington's many innovations was writingoriginals specifically to showcase one soloist. 'The Mood To Be Wooed', heardin an extended version, puts the spotlight on the beautiful tone and romanticstyle of altoist Johnny Hodges. 'Blue Cellophane' features one of LawrenceBrown's finest solos.

The novelty 'Hit Me With A Hot Note (And Watch Me Bounce)'

has witty words from the underrated lyricist Don George that are sung withspirit by Joya Sherrill. 'Subtle Slough' may seem to be an unfamiliartitle but it would be renamed 'Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don't Tease Me)'when it was outfitted with words the following year. Trumpeter Taft Jordan (whois heard briefly) and Johnny Hodges are the stars. Cornetist Rex Stewart, whosehalf-valve technique was showcased on the hit 'Boy Meets Horn,' recorded 'FranticFantasy' as a follow-up and he really shows off his witty style, range and widevariety of bent notes on this fairly lengthy rendition. Clarinettist JimmyHamilton, the most modern soloist in Ellington's orchestra in 1945 and thefirst to be open to the influence of bebop, is in brilliant form on 'The AirConditioned Jungle', even taking a long section unaccompanied.

In a unique arrangement, on 14 May 1945 Duke Ellington andtrombonist Tommy Dorsey guested on one song apiece with each other's orchestra.

'Tonight I Shall Sleep' is a beautiful Ellington ballad that includeswarm statements by Dorsey (whose tone earned him the title of the 'SentimentalGentleman Of Swing') and Hodges. Sy Oliver's "The Minor Goes Muggin'",which has solos from both Ellington and Dorsey, features the powerful TommyDorsey Orchestra.

This version of 'I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Blues' istaken from a radio broadcast and effectively contrasts the two very differentvocal styles of Al Hibbler and Kay Davis.

'Downbeat Shuffle' was one of three numbers written by Ellington thatwere named after music magazines of the time, along with 'Esquire Swank' and 'MetronomeAll Out'. A straightforward medium-tempo blues on the surface, it features adialogue between clarinettist Jimmy Hamilton and Harry Carney on bass clarinet,solos from the remarkable trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton, Hamilton, Taft Jordan and tenorman Al Sears, and totally unpredictable ensembles.

'(Otto, Make That) Riff Staccato' gives Ray Nance an opportunity tosing, assisted by Jordan's trumpet and the booting tenor of Sears. 'The KissingBug', which boasts a particularly catchy vocal by Joya Sherrill, has wordswritten by the singer. Al Sears, one of the most underrated of Ellington'ssoloists, and a boppish Jimmy Hamilton are also heard. 'Passion Flower' isa contrast, a sensual and impressionistic performance that could only be playedwith this much intensity and feeling by Johnny Hodges. 'Everything But You' wasnot a major hit but is still performed now and then. Joya Sherrill has fun withDon George's lyrics and baritonist Harry Carney has a good spot.

This collection concludes with the exciting 'HollywoodHangover', a cooking blues that was arranged for the Ellington band by itscomposer, trumpeter Buck Clayton. It gives five of Ellington's many soloists(Tricky Sam Nanton, J
Disc: 1
Hollywood Hangover
1 Midriff
2 I Didn’t Know About You
3 I’m Beginning To See The Light
4 Mood To Be Wooed
5 Blue Cellophane
6 Hit Me With A Hot Note And Watch Me Bounce
7 Subtle Slough
8 Frantic Fantasy (Prairie Fantasy)
9 The Air-Conditioned Jungle
10 Tonight I Shall Sleep (With A Smile On My Face)
11 The Minor Goes Muggin’
12 I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues
13 Downbeat Shuffle
14 (Otto, Make That) Riff Staccato
15 The Kissing Bug
16 Passion Flower
17 Everything But You
18 Hollywood Hangover
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