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Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington In Grona Lund

Chris Mosey By

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Midsummer is a quite magical time to be in Sweden. The long, dark winter is over and now, as the sun stays resolutely above the horizon, the Lutheran natives shed their somber demeanor, dress in traditional costumes, dance around maypoles decorated with garlands of flowers, drink far too much aquavit and have such a good time they forget all about it the morning after.

In 1963 Swedish jazz fans had added reason for celebration: for four weeks, the Duke Ellington band toured the nation's folkparkerna, or "people's parks," to rapturous acclaim. Ellington's men were a world away from the pressures of life on the road in the US where Jim Crow conditions persisted and critical acclaim was scant. Some band members told a reporter from the local Estrad jazz magazine: "We want to stay in Sweden."

Ellington had always been crazy about the country. He said, "I see skies in Sweden I see nowhere else." He distilled his love of the country into his composition "Serenade to Sweden."

In the capital, Stockholm, the band played six nights at the Dance Inn in the Gröna Lund amusement park, an event documented in this magnificent double album, a reminder that jazz can be both creative and enjoyable.

The first CD, opening with a fade into Billy Strayhorn's "Boo- Dah," goes on to feature an oblique Ellington piano introduction to "Take The A Train." There follows the complete, four-part "Suite Thursday," written for the 1960 Monterey Jazz Festival. Just this— unpretentious and very catchy—is worth the price of the album. But there is so much more...

Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet is at its lyrical best on the old standard "Deep Purple" while Johnny Hodges' lush alto tells the story of Romeo and Juliet in "The Star Crossed Lovers," from Ellington's Shakespearean suite, "Such Sweet Thunder." To celebrate Cootie Williams' return to the fold, Ellington programmed in both "New Concerto For Cootie" and "Tootie For Cootie." A rollicking version of "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" brings the first disk to a close, with Ellington promising that the band will be back shortly.

However, CD 2 opens with him at the piano playing "intermission music," waiting for his recalcitrant troops to reassemble.

Once there, the band—featuring the great but tragically short-lived Ernie Shepard on bass—goes into a parade of "greatest hits": "Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady" etc, a reminder of what a superb songsmith Ellington was, in addition to his many other talents.

Predictably, Lawrence Brown plays his kitsch feature, "Rose Of The Rio Grande."

But there's also an unexpected version of George Shearing's "Lullaby of Broadway," starring Sweden's Rolf Ericson, the band's first foreign-born member, and Ellington's own, often overlooked, "Mr Gentle And Mr Cool," featuring Paul Gonsalves and Ray Nance.

This is absolutely wonderful stuff that—for all the technical expertise now available—simply couldn't be replicated today. You can't cut and paste genius.

Track Listing: CD1: Boo-Dah; Laura; Main Stem; Take The A Train; Suite Thursday; Deep Purple; Silk Lace; New Concerto For Cootie; Tootie For Cootie; The Star Crossed Lovers; Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. CD2: Intermission Music; I Didn’t Know About You; All Of Me; Jeep’s Blues; Rose Of The Rio Grande; Black And Tan Fantasy; Kind Of Dukish & Rockin’ in Rhythm; In A Sentimental Mood; Mr Gentle And Mr Cool; Lullaby Of Birdland; Mood Indigo; Sophisticated Lady; I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart/Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (medley); One More Once Or One More Bossa Nova; One More Once Or One More Twist.

Personnel: Cootie Williams, Eddie Preston, Rolf Ericson, Ray Nance: trumpets; Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, Buster Cooper: trombones; Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney: reeds; Duke Ellington: piano; Ernie Shepard: bass; Sam Woodyard: drums.

Title: Duke Ellington In Grona Lund | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Storyville Records


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