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Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Rotterdam 1969

Jack Bowers By

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Here's a succulent and long-hidden treat for Duke Ellington aficionados: a wide-ranging and reasonably well-recorded concert performance by the Ellington orchestra from 1969 at the Do Doelen Concert Hall in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Many of Ellington's tried-and-true favorites are here, along with a number of lesser-known themes such as tenor Paul Gonsalves' feature, "Up Jump"; "Come Off the Veldt (and Into the Bush)," a showpiece for drummer Rufus "Speedy" Jones; alto Johnny Hodges' star turn, "Black Butterfly"; and trumpeter Cat Anderson's fiery Latin bacchanalia, "El Gato."

Ellington's piano playing is a highlight, especially on an extended introduction to Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," whose featured soloist is trumpeter Cootie Williams (who paraphrases Ray Nance's original solo from 1941). The impetuous "Up Jump" is followed by the concert's centerpiece, "La Plus Belle Africaine," written for the first International Festival of Negro Arts, held in 1966 in Dakar, Senegal, and featuring Ellington, Jones, clarinetist Russell Procope, bassist Victor Gaskin and baritone Harry Carney in one of his infrequent solo appearances.

After "Black Butterfly," the orchestra settles into a more familiar groove with "Things Ain't What they Used to Be" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," which precede a pair of medleys, the first of which comprises the well-known "Caravan" (main theme only), "Mood Indigo" and "Sophisticated Lady." Procope and trombonist Lawrence Brown solo on "Indigo," while Carney takes another turn in the spotlight on "Sophisticated Lady." The second medley consists of a pair of relatively unnoticed tunes, "Making That Scene" and "Be Cool and Groovy for Me," sandwiched around the Ellington staple "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," all warbled by the almost equally unheralded Tony Watkins who sings with unflagging enthusiasm and a dab of charm.

Organist Wild Bill Davis joins the ensemble for "Satin Doll" (with Duke shouting, a la Count Basie, "one more time!," a nod to Davis' classic arrangement of "April in Paris" for the Basie band) and Davis' own blues, "R.T.M.," which also features six rocking choruses by Hodges. The rousing finale, "In Triplicate," began life as Gonsalves' "Wailing Interval" between the two movements of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." Gonsalves is out front along with tenors Harold Ashby and Norris Turney, leading to a few bars of "Satin Doll" and what was presumably a standing ovation. The orchestra is for the most part in fine form (the opening "A Train" and "C Jam Blues" are a trifle ragged) and the audience receptive and animated. For Ellington fans, a well-groomed and expansive concert date that is almost sure to please.

Track Listing: Take the A Train (theme) / C Jam Blues; Kinda Dukish / Rockin’ in Rhythm; Take the A Train; Up Jump; La Plus Belle Africaine; Come Off the Veldt; El Gato; Black Butterfly; Things Ain’t What They Used to Be; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Medley 1: Caravan / Mood Indigo / Sophisticated Lady; Medley 2: Making That Scene / It Don’t Mean a Thing / Be Cool and Groovy for Me; Satin Doll; R.T.M.; In Triplicate into Satin Doll.

Personnel: Duke Ellington: leader, piano; Cat Anderson: trumpet; Cootie Williams: trumpet; Ambrose Jackson: trumpet; Mercer Ellington: trumpet; Nelson Williams: trumpet; Benny Bailey: trumpet; Russell Procope: alto sax, clarinet; Johnny Hodges: alto sax; Norris Turney: alto, tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Harold Ashby: tenor sax, clarinet; Paul Gonsalves: tenor sax; Harry Carney: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Lawrence Brown: trombone; Chuck Connors: trombone; Victor Gaskin: bass; Rufus Jones: drums; Tony Watkins: vocals.

Title: Rotterdam 1969 | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Storyville Records

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