Eating Crow in the Snow. These very words sprung from this critic’s mouth: “Miles Davis was more important to American Music than Duke Ellington”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both men are important, essential artists to read about and listen to if one desires to understand American Music, specifically, Jazz. But my previous statement was foolhardy hero-worship. Within the electrons of this magazine space, I have my “Desert Island” top ten recordings. One of these is Ellington At Newport, which I commented was...“Essential because of Paul Gonsalves’ “Diminuendo”; fun because of Johnny Hodges’ silky slippery “Jeep’s Blues”. Well, Columbia Legacy has re-released Ellington At Newport: Complete with an additional 100 minutes of music. Music as perfect and important as Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, KV 622. Oh, boy!
Jammin’ with Miss Cinnamon. My twin sister’s eleven-year-old tortoise-shell tabby typically lays on my desk at my left when I am writing. She talks to me. No kidding. Her Italian is outstanding. Anyway, I queued up this re-released Ellington and the opening number was the National Anthem, she perked up from her perpetual nap and said, “Hot damn, what sound. You can here the Hodges, Gonsalves, and Carney, all individually on the ‘...rocket’s red glare’.”
Indeed. I listened to the Star Spangled Banner and I thought of The Blues Travelers’ John Popper opening a World Series game with a harmonica rendition that could have gone badly astray. But instead, Popper captured all of American music in that brief 1:40. So with Ellington, with an almost Sousa march cadence, Ellington lead one of his finest bands through the single piece of music that makes us all the same. What a great addition to the discography.
What’s New. I did not listen to this entire set from start to finish. I saved the material that had been previously released for last and I went right to the new stuff. There were previously unreleased versions of the three-part Newport Suite, “Tea for Two”, “Day In, Day Out” (along with “Tulip or Turnip”, sung by Ray Nance), “Mood Indigo and “Jeep’s Blues”. The present versions “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” were previously released, but unfamiliar to this critic. It was the Strayhorn classic that made me kneel. Never playing anything the same twice, Ellington brilliantly improvised over Strays’ chords for three choruses before breaking into that familiar introduction. And then the band broke in. Popping crisply, the listener can hear the maestro encouraging his band in one of the most exciting performances of this permanent piece of the American Musical Canon
What was I Thinking Anyway?. In rock-blues, perhaps the finest example of electric blues playing (certainly slide guitar playing) is the Allman Brother’s Band Live at the Fillmore East ’s “One Way Out”. In big band jazz, the finest recorded performance (certainly of the alto saxophone) is Johnny Hodges playing “Jeep’s Blues”. In the end, this music does not need to be reconsidered anymore than Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”. It is music as testament. This disc is a must have for Ellington fans as well as all jazz fans. Miss Cinnamon yawns her agreement.
Happy 100th Birthday, Maestro. We hope to hear you again soon.
Track Listing (Disc One):Start Spangled Banner; Black and Tan Fantasy; Tea for Two; Take the ‘A’ Train; Festival Junction; Blues to Be There; Newport Up, Sophisticated Lady; Day In, Day Out; Diminuendo Blue and Crescendo in Blue. (Total time: 68:57).
Track Listing (Disc Two):I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good; Jeep’s Blues; Tulip or Turnip; Skin Deep; Mood Indigo; Festival Junction; Blues to be There; Newport Up; I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good; Jeep’s Blues. . (Total time: 60:12).
Personnel: Edward Kennedy Ellington: Leader, Composer, Piano; Cat Anderson, Willie Cook, Ray Nance, Clark Terry: Trumpets; Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman: Trombones, John Sanders: Valve Trombone; Harry Carney: Baritone Saxophone; Paul Gonsalves: Tenor Saxophone; Jimmy Hamilton: Clarinet; Johnny Hodges: Alto Saxophone; Russel Procope: Clarinet and Alto Saxophone; Jimmy Woode: Bass; Sam Woodward: Drums.