Jazz fans are a lot like sports fanatics. Just as we would turn out to see the now seventy year-old Arnold Palmer shoot over par or Willie Mays play in an old timers game, we cherish the recordings of elder jazzmen. In 1961, the sixty-somethings Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong got together for two days of recording. The great innovators wrote no new chapters in jazz history, created no controversy, and played nothing we hadn’t heard before (almost). It was glorious.
The hoped for meeting of Satchmo and Ellington’s orchestra never materialized. Instead Ellington played piano with Armstrong’s All-Stars. The tunes are drawn from Ellington’s book of the very well-known. With Pops the familiar takes on special meaning as his irrepressible vocalese and self-rewritten lyrics delight. Just like Armstrong’s recorded duets with Ella Fitzgerald, the focus wasn’t so much the music as it was on this icon from New Orleans. Satchmo, to his credit, takes numerous trumpet solos with those road weary lips.
Ellington, for his part, seems satisfied with his role as Satchmo’s sideman. Keeping solos to a minimum. He does call for his composition “Azalea,” an offhand tribute to Pops composed twenty year prior to this recording. Like all Ellington music, it was written for an individual player, and finally getting Armstrong to cover it must have been satisfying for Duke. There is also “The Beautiful American,” a tune composed in studio, and of course heard for the first time here.
The additional disc found here reveals Duke’s role as orchestrator and organizer. The ten additional tracks on disc two are made up of partial takes, false starts, discussion, and alternative takes to master versions. Although it may be of interest to only the fanatic Duke and Satchmo fans, a voyeuristic peak into the recording process is always a treat.
Track List Disc One:Duke’s Place; I’m Just A Lucky So And So; Cottontail; Mood Indigo; Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me; The Beautiful American; Black And Tan Fantasy; Drop Me Off In Harlem; The Mooche; In A Mellow Tone; It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing); Solitude; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; I’m Beginning To See The Light; Just Squeeze Me; I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good); Azalea.
Track List Disc Two:In A Mellow Tone; I’m Beginning To See The Light; Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Duke’s Place; Drop Me Off In Harlem; I’m Just A Lucky So And So; Azalea; Black And Tan Fantasy; band discussion on Cottontail.