The Music of Duke Ellington: Live in Zurich 1950 + Thank You, Uncle Edward

Ken Dryden By

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Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
Live in Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950

Duke Ellington Legacy
Thank You, Uncle Edward

Duke Ellington's half-century of commercial recordings provides a ready comparison for any jazz group that chooses to explore his music. A newly discovered Ellington concert and a band led by tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew with Ellington's grandson, guitarist Edward Ellington II, both provide their share of pleasing moments.

Numerous CDs of previously unissued live recordings by Duke Ellington have turned up since his death in 1974. This 1950 Swiss concert shows the band in transition; the era of the big band was over and Ellington was able to keep going by his willingness to subsidize his tours with his still considerable royalty income, while others disbanded or cut down to small groups. Drummer Sonny Greer was on his last legs so he shares the stage with Butch Ballard; likewise, alto sax star Johnny Hodges would leave to lead his own band the following year.

Although it isn't clear how much music was actually performed or recorded, the selections are a refreshing change from the typical offerings of other CDs. Harry Carney's robust baritone sax is heard in the obscurity of "Paradise," while Jimmy Hamilton's blistering clarinet shines in a romp through "Air Conditioned Jungle," backed by the fluid accompaniment of bassist Wendell Marshall. Ray Nance, nicknamed "Floorshow" for his ability to steal the spotlight, takes his violin on a humorous rendition of the pop song "Frankie and Johnny." Hodges, long the star soloist in the band, is showcased in the lush "Violet Blue" and a swinging "The Jeep is Jumpin.'" Composer Billy Strayhorn takes over for Duke in "Take the A Train" and guest Don Byas (by now living in Europe) is featured in "How High the Moon." The sound is excellent for the era, though the proofreading of the musicians' names and song titles is haphazard.

A few years ago, Edward Ellington II asked Virginia Mayhew to lead the Duke Ellington Legacy to keep his grandfather's music present on the jazz scene. Rather than dusting off the late bandleader's arrangements, pianist/chief arranger Norman Simmons and Mayhew wrote new charts for an octet that includes the outstanding trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley (who replaced Harry Carney in the Mercer Ellington-led edition of Duke's Orchestra) and trumpeter Mark McGowan.

The song selection on Thank You Uncle Edward is a good mix of repertoire from several different decades. Mayhew devours the sauntering "Pretty Woman" and wails in the deliberate AfroCuban treatment of "In a Sentimental Mood," the latter taken far from its lush ballad roots. Simmons' subtle piano solo opens "Isfahan" though it turns strident as McGowan takes over. Vocalist Nancy Reed is a fine addition on several numbers, including an AfroCuban setting of "Caravan," a breezy "Perdido" and a brisk, boppish "Cottontail" that features her adept handling of Jon Hendricks' humorous vocalese. Gordon, though just one of several soloists in "Mainstem" (one of Ellington's many train songs), easily sticks out with his raucous playing, as he does nearly every time he is featured. The one non-Ellington piece is Mayhew's bluesy bop vehicle "Toe Tickler." Ellington's legacy is in good hands with this excellent tribute band.

Tracks and Personnel

Live in Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950

Tracks: Suddenly It Jumped; Ring Dem Bells; Creole Love Call; Paradise; Air Conditioned Jungle; How High the Moon; The Tattooed Bride; Take the A Train; Frankie & Johnny; Rockin' in Rhythm; Violet Blue; St. Louis Blues; S'Wonderful; The Jeep Is Jumpin.'

Personnel: Duke Ellington: piano, arranger; Billy Strayhorn: piano, arranger; Johnny Hodges: alto sax; Jimmy Hamilton: tenor sax, clarinet; Russell Procope: alto sax, clarinet; Don Byas: tenor sax; Alva McCain: tenor sax; Harry Carney: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Harold Shorty Baker: trumpet; Al Killian: trumpet; Nelson Williams: trumpet; Ernie Royal: trumpet; Ray Nance: cornet, violin, vocals; Lawrence Brown: trombone; Quentin Jackson: trombone; Theodore Kelly: trombone; Wendell Marshall: bass; Sonny Greer: drums; Butch Ballard: drums; Kay Davis: vocals.

Thank You, Uncle Edward

Tracks: Perdido; Pretty Woman; Caravan; Mainstem; Day Dream; Toe Tickler; Isfahan; Cottontail; Moon Mist; In a Sentimental Mood; Come Sunday.

Personnel: Norman Simmons: piano, arranger; Virginia Mayhew: tenor sax; Edward Ellington II: electric guitar; Nancy Reed: vocals; Joe Temperley: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Wycliffe Gordon: trombone; Mark McGowan: trumpet; Tom DiCarlo: bass; Paul Wells: drums.

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