"First of all the kids in the band want you to know they love you madly" are debonair Duke Ellington
's playful opening remarks on this live concert set. Those "kids" he refers to are an incredible array of virtuoso sidemen, among them Cat Anderson
, Cootie Williams
, Johnny Hodges
and Paul Gonsalves
Disc One of The Great Concerts
is made up of London concerts from 1963 and 1964. Every side has passages and solos that alone make this reissue an outstanding set to own. The opening number is "Perdido" taken at an up tempo; Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet) and Rolf Ericson (trumpet) each play memorable choruses, but it's Gonsalves (tenor saxophone) who blasts out a couple of solos that left this listener astonished and hitting the repeat button.
Many of the Ellington tunes were already familiar classics, but no one is playing on automatic. Having only recently returned to the band after years away, Williams' trumpet take is less exotic erotica than is customary for this tune. It's a harsher, leaner but pulsating approach with a wall of brass behind him. For pure poetry there is Hodges' alto sax on "Far East Suite." "Single Petal of a Rose," composed by Ellington as a salute to Queen Elizabeth II, is an exquisite romantic ballad and the Duke's solo affirms what a superior (and underappreciated) jazz pianist he was.
The 1964 concert at Columbia University heard on Disc 2 includes another rarity to treasureEllington's musical alter ego, composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn
, who rarely performed in public. Ellington calls him out for an uproarious duet on "Tonk." That infectious fun is followed by the down and dirty blues of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," on which Ellington playfully suggests the audience be cool and only snap their fingers on the afterbeat.
Leading throughout is Ellington, the towering figure in American music. It's no overstatement to say these are performances from one of the greatest of bands. They are peerless musicians at their best. The Duke of ElegantGems From the Duke Ellington Songbook Volume 3
can of course hardly make a dent into Ellington's protean output of perhaps over 3,000 works. Still the choices herefrom a dozen previously released albumsare fine and there's nary a clunker in the bunch. All but two of the tunes here are from 1931-41, a golden period in Ellington's creativity. Houston Person
's "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" swings mightily. On "Drop Me Off in Harlem," pianist Richard Wyands
(also swell on "Do Nothin') gets to the essence of the tune with a carefree grace.
For more elegant piano magic there's Eric Reed
's "I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good." Another highlight is a delightfully quirky cooing of "Mood Indigo" by the incomparable Sheila Jordan
, wasting nary a breath or a note in duo with bassist Cameron Brown
. Mention must also be made of the fluidity of Cedar Walton
's piano on one of Ellington's most beloved melodies, "Sophisticated Lady."
Tracks and Personnel The Great Concerts (London & New York 1963-1964)
Tracks: Disc One: Take the "A" Train; Duke Ellington: Introduction; Perdido; Caravan; Isfahan; The Opener; Harlem; Take the "A" Train; Moon Indigo; C Jam Blues; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue; Single Petal of a Rose; Kinda Dukish & Rockin' in Rhythm. Disc Two: Take the "A" Train; Satin Doll; Caravan; Skillipoop; Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall; Blues Medley - Happy-Go-Lucky Local; John Sanders' Blues, C Jam Blues; Carolina Shout; Tonk; Things Ain't What They Used to Be; Melancholia/Reflections in D; Little African Flower; Bird of Paradise; Single Petal of a Rose.
Personnel: Disc 2: Duke Ellington: piano; Cat Anderson, Roy Burrowes, Cootie Williams: trumpets; Ray Nance: cornet and violin; Cat Anderson, Rolf Ericson, Herbie Jones, Cootie Williams: trumpets; Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors: trombones; Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney: reeds; Ernie Shepard: bass; Sam Woodyard: drums; Milt Grayson: vocal; Ernie Shepard: vocal. Disc 2: Duke Ellington: piano; Billy Strayhorn: piano; Willie The Lion Smith: piano; Peck Morrison: bass; Sam Woodyard: drums The Duke of Elegant
Tracks: Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me; Drop Me Off in Harlem; Warm Valley; Solitude; I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good; Mood Indigo; Take the Coltrane; Sophisticated Lady; Prelude to a Kiss; In a Sentimental Mood; All Too Soon; Melancholia.
Personnel: 1. Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Richard Wyands: piano; Russell Malone: guitar; Ray Drummond: bass; Grady Tate: drums. 2. Richard Wyands: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Grady Tate: drums. 3. James Spaulding: alto saxophone; John Hicks: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Kenny Washington: drums. 4. Lucky Thompson: tenor saxophone; Martial Solal: piano; Michael Hausser: vibes; Gilbert Gassin: bass; Gerard Ponochet: drums; Gana M'Bow: percussion. 5. Eric Reed: piano; Dwayne Burno: bass; Cecil Brooks III: drums. 6. Sheila Jordan: vocal; Cameron Brown: bass. 7. David Newman: tenor saxophone; Bryan Carrott: vibraphone; John Hicks: piano; Steve Novosel: bass; Winard Harper: drums. 8. Cedar Walton: piano. 9. Don Braden: tenor saxophone; Xavier Davis: piano; Dwayne Burno: bass; Cedar Brooks III: drums. 10. Mark Murphy: vocal; Allan Praskin: saxophone; Peter Mihelich: piano; Achim Tang: bass; Vito Lesczak: drums. 11. Teddy Edwards: tenor saxophone; Richard Wyands: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Chip White: drums. 12. Larry Willis: piano.