The depth and breadth of the Ellington Orchestra's repertoire/book over the half-century Duke led the band is mind-bogglingly vast. And commercially-released studio recordings are only the tip of the iceberg. There are compositions, versions of tunes and unique collaborations contained on these two albums found either nowhere else or only on other roughly contemporaneous live concert recordings. The Cornell University, December 10, 1948, concert documents an incarnation of the band that had gone unrecorded, commercially, for the entire year due to a union-imposed recording ban. It also has the added value of including Duke's illuminating, if often enigmatic, spoken introductions, segments missing on the Chicago recordings. The priceless aspect of the Chicago sessions is the presence of Django Reinhardt playing amplified guitaralthough there is little interaction with the band.
These concerts took place in years that Ellington premiered new, extended works at Carnegie Hall annually. The second, yet earlier, Chicago Civic Opera House concert (1/20/46) reprised A Tonal Group, debuted a fortnight earlier in New York and includes a rare example of a "Fugue," a device Ellington also used in his tone poem "(A Tone Parallel to) Harlem" in 1951. The Chicago concert with Django (11/10/46) also features the first, pre-Carnegie premiere, debut of The Deep South Suite
, best known for "Happy-Go-Lucky Local," but fascinating for Ellington's wry, sardonic take on the racist South in the other movements (his spoken comments are invaluable here). Black, Brown and Beige
is excerpted with "Come Sunday-Work Song," demonstrating that Ellington had not given up on it despite poor reviews at its 1943 premiere.
By the post-WWII era, Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
and his other collaborators, had developed a unique, post-Swing sound and extended vocabulary for the band. On these albums the band also embraces aspects of modernity like asymmetry, dissonance, bop harmonies and abrupt tonal/mood shifts on "The Air-Conditioned Jungle" (Chicago) and "The Tattooed Bride" and "The Symphomaniac" (Cornell). The 1948 concert is notable, too, for the last recorded revival of "Reminiscing in Tempo," Ellington's first extended worka brooding, impressionistic elegy for his mother. Both albums also attest to the profligate creative and melodic fecundity of Ellington/ Strayhorn, showcasing tunes like the dashing "My Friend," ravishing "Lady of the Lavender Mist" and "Sultry Sunset" that would be the envy of would-be composers today, but didn't make the cut in the ongoing book. Also intriguing are the creative reimaginings and reworkings in the (piano heavy) "Frankie and Johnny," "Caravan" (both Chicago) and "A-Train" take off, "Manhattan Murals" and "Humoreque" (Cornell). And don't miss the three-tempoed Ben Webster
showcase, "How High the Moon" (Cornell), a template for tenor sax features for the next decades.
Tracks and Personnel Chicago 1946
Tracks: Tracks: Disc 1: Ring Dem Bells; Jumpin' Punkins; Beale Street Blues; Memphis Blues; The Golden Feather; The Air-Conditioned Jungle; A Very Unbooted Character; Sultry Sunset; The Deep South Suite: Magnolias Just Dripping with Molasses, Hearsay, There Was Nobody Looking, Happy-Go-Lucky Local; Things Ain't What They Used To Be; Hiawatha; Ride, Red, Ride; A Blues Riff; Improvisation #2; Honeysuckle Rose; Blue Skies (Trumpet No End). Disc 2: Star Spangled Banner; In A Mellotone; Solid Old Man; Come Sunday, Work Song; Rugged Romeo; Circe; Dancers in Love; Coloratura; Frankie and Johnny; Caravan; Take the A Train; Mellow Ditty; Fugue; Jam a Ditty; Magenta Haze; Pitter Panther Patter; Suburbanite.
Personnel: Duke Ellington: piano; Django Reinhardt: guitar (Disc 1: Tracks 15-18); Sheldon Hemphill: Taft Jordan: Cat Anderson: Harold Baker: Ray Nance: trumpets; Lawrence Brown: Claude Jones: Wilbur De Paris: trombones; Russell Procope: alto sax and clarinet; Johnny Hodges: alto sax; Jimmy Hamilton: clarinet and tenor sax; Al Sears: tenor sax; Harry Carney: baritone sax and clarinets; Fred Guy: guitar; Oscar Pettiford: bass; Sonny Greer: drums. Cornell University 1948
Tracks: Tracks: Disc 1: Star Spangled Banner; Lady of the Lavender Mist; Suddenly It Jumped; Reminscing in Tempo; She Wouldn't Be Moved; Paradise; The Symphomaniac, Pt. 1 (Symphonic or Bust); The Symphomaniac, Pt. 2 (How You Sound); My Friend; You Oughta; Creole Love Call; Don't Blame Me; Lover Man; The Tattooed Bride; Dancers in Love. Disc 2: Manhattan Murals; Hy'a Sue; Fantazm; Tootlin' Through the Roof; Brown Betty; Humoresque; How High the Moon; Don't Be So Mean to Baby; Lover Come Back to Me; It's Monday Everyday; Medley: Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, In A Sentimental Mood, Mood Indigo, I'm Beginning to See the Light, Sophisticated Lady, Caravan, It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing, I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart; Limehouse Blues.
Personnel: Duke Ellington: piano; Shelton Hemphill: Francis Williams: Harold Baker: Al Killian: trumpets; Ray Nance: trumpet: violin and vocal; Lawrence Brown: Quentin Jackson: trombones; Tyree Glenn: trombone and vibes; Johnny Hodges: alto sax; Russell Procope: alto sax and clarinet; Jimmy Hamilton: clarinet and tenor sax; Al Sears: Ben Webster: tenor sax; Harry Carney: baritone sax: clarinets; Fred Guy: guitar; Wendell Marshall: bass; Sonny Greer: drums; Kay Davis: Al Hibbler: vocals.