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Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington In Coventry

Chris Mosey By

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During World War Two, the Germans rained tons of high explosives, including parachute air-mines and incendiary petroleum mines on the English city of Coventry. In addition to factories supporting the British war effort, they destroyed the city's emblematic cathedral. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, took to using "Coventry" as a synonym for mass destruction. Enemy cities would be "Coventried," Goebbels proclaimed.

It was revealed after the war that Churchill had received advance warning of the blitz on the West Midlands city but had ordered that no defensive measures should be taken for fear the Germans would start to suspect that the British had cracked their Enigma cipher. The British Prime Minister said later he reckoned his decision to let Coventry burn had aged him by 20 years.

After the war, the ruins of the cathedral were incorporated into a new, modern building where, in 1966 Duke Ellington performed one of his "sacred concerts," only now fully released on record.

Recorded just eight years before his death, Ellington announces the program in hushed, reverential tones, playing in churches a relatively new phenomenon for him. The orchestra may not have been the best he'd ever put together, but included in its ranks Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney and Sam Woodyard. It was supplemented—for good or ill, mostly the latter—by the Cliff Adams Singers and a classically-trained baritone, George Webb.

The opening number, "New World A-Comin'" was originally written for a Carnegie Hall concert in 1943, the title taken from a book by black author Roi Ottley, which painted an optimistic picture of socio-economic conditions for blacks in the US.

"Come Easter," a lightly swinging, mellow piece was written especially for the Coventry concert and only ever played there.

"In The Beginning God," based on the first words in the Bible, is Ellington at his worst, overblown and pretentious. At one point George Webb chants, "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John..." inviting the childish follow-on, ..."went to bed with their trousers on." There follows a nice passage by Sam Woodyard, and that is where the number should have ended. Unfortunately, the Cliff Adams Singers return for more reverential chanting and the show goes on... and on.

Track Listing: New World A-Comin’; Come Sunday; Light (Montage); Come Easter; Tell Me It’s The Truth; In The Beginning God; West Indian Pancake; La Plus Belle Africaine.

Personnel: Cat Anderson; Cootie Williams; Herbie Jones; Mercer Ellington: trumpet; Lawrence Brown; Chuck Connors; Buster Cooper: trombone; Jimmy Hamilton; Russell Procope; Johnny Hodges; Paul Gonsalves; Harry Carney: reeds; Duke Ellington: piano; John Lamb: bass; Sam Woodyard: drums; George Webb; Cliff Adams Singers: vocals.

Title: Duke Ellington In Coventry | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Storyville Records

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