Archive for Duke Ellington

Remembering Johnny Hodges – Jeep’s Blues (Live at Newport, 1956)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on May 11, 2020 by telescoper

The great alto saxophonist and long-term mainstay of the Duke Ellington Orchestra Johnny Hodges passed away 50 years ago today, on 11th May 1970.

Here’s the piece that was his signature tune, Jeep’s Blues – played during a very famous live concert by the Ellington band at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956.

Feast your ears on that huge soulful sound that was perfect for playing the blues!

In My Solitude

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on March 2, 2020 by telescoper

Whether or not you’re in a state of self-isolation because of coronavirus, please give up three and a bit minutes of your time to listen to this little gem by the quartet that was led for a short time by Ruby Braff (cornet) and George Barnes (guitar). That band not only knew how to play but also exactly when to stop, as demonstrated on this exquisite live version of the great Duke Ellington song, In My Solitude. Michael Moore is on bass (arco on parts of this number) and Wayne Wright on rhythm guitar, but it’s Ruby Braff who takes the lead on this one, using his beautiful tone to stunning effect…

 

 

 

 

Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on February 17, 2020 by telescoper

This morning there was a reminder on the radio that today is the anniversary of the death of the great Thelonious Monk, who died on 17th February 1982. I went to a concert by British pianist Stan Tracey the day after the sad news broke and he threw away his intended play list and played nothing but Monk tunes for the whole evening. It was a wonderful concert and a moving tribute from one musician to another who had clearly influenced him deeply.

Last week I was asked by a young man to recommend some albums because he wanted to find out more about Monk’s music. Among those I suggested was Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington which was recorded in 1956 for the Riverside Label, and features a trio of Thelonious Monk (piano), Oscar Pettiford (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums).

This is an unusual album because it finds Monk doing what the recording executives asked, namely to play standard tunes rather than his original compositions. The most performed jazz composer of all time* is Duke Ellington so he was a natural source of material to choose, and the album that resulted is absolutely fascinating not least because Monk clearly relates very well to Ellington’s music. In fact it’s one of my all-time favourites. Here is just one track from it, I let a Song go out of my Heart. Enjoy!

*The second most performed jazz composer of all time is none other than Monk himself!

Piano in the Foreground

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , on February 19, 2019 by telescoper

Judging by the statistics provided by WordPress about the traffic on this blog, there’s less than overwhelming interest in the posts I do about Jazz. Whenever I put such an item on here the number of hits invariably goes down nearly as steeply as when I post poetry. On the other hand, there is at least some overlap between people who like Jazz and people who read this blog for other reasons. Last week, for example, during the public defence of a PhD thesis in Copenhagen the candidate made reference to an album by the great pianist, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. A large part of the dissertation was devoted to foreground contamination of the cosmic microwave background, which is why Piano in the Foreground came up. I even asked a question about the album cover at the end of the talk – I recognized Duke Ellington and drummer Sam Woodyward, but couldn’t name the bass player. It turned out to be a trick question, in that two bass players appear in the personnel listing of the album, but the one in the picture is Aaron Bell.

Undaunted by the likely negative impact on my blog statistics, I thought I would share the album here. Ellington didn’t record many albums with a piano trio, which is a great shame as he had a wonderful individual style that comes across very well in that setting. He was also extremely influential pianist – you can definitely hear his influence in Thelonious Monk, for example.

Here is the whole album via Youtube and very fine it is too. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did listening to it over the weekend for the first time in decades!

Come Sunday

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on January 21, 2018 by telescoper

I can’t believe that I’ve been sharing music on this blog for almost a decade and haven’t yet posted this. It’s a beautiful Duke Ellington song Come Sunday, written for the extended concert suite Black, Brown and Beige, later appeared in the Duke Ellington concerts of sacred music, and eventually became a jazz standard. It was written for solo voice along with the full Ellington band, but this almost entirely a cappella version featuring the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson with a few bits of Duke Ellington on piano is my favourite version. It’s a hauntingly elusive melody, but Mahalia Jackson fills it with her entire soul…

Ellington meets Tchaikovsky

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on December 9, 2017 by telescoper

Jazz and classical music don’t always provide a palatable blend, but here’s one cocktail that definitely works, especially in the festive season. It’s from the 1960 album The Nutcracker Suite by Duke Ellington, based on original music for the ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovksy. Most of the arranging on the album was, I think, done by Duke Ellington’s regular collaborator Billy Strayhorn,  and the result is every bit as witty, elegant and charming as you’d expect. No doubt some classical music fans will hate this, but I think it’s wonderful!

This is the Overture. If you like it do check out the other tracks!

Cotton Tail

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 16, 2017 by telescoper

It’s been a very busy and rather trying day so I’m in need of a bit of a pick-me-up. This will do nicely! It’s the great Duke Ellington band of 1940 playing Cotton Tail. This tune – yet another constructed on the chord changes to George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm – was written by Ben Webster and arranged by Duke Ellington for his orchestra in a characteristically imaginative and inventive way. Webster’s “heavy” tenor saxophone dominates the first half of the track, but the real star of the show (for me) is the superb brass section of the Ellington Orchestra whose tight discipline allows it to punch out a series of complicated riffs with a power and precision that would terrify most classical orchestras. And no wonder! The Ellington band of this era was jam-packed  with talent, including: Rex Stewart (cornet); Wallace Jones, Ray Nance, and Cootie Williams (trumpet); Juan Tizol,  Joe”Tricky Sam” Nanton, and Lawrence Brown (trombones). Listen particularly to the two sequences from 1.33-1.49 and 2.35-2.59, which are just brilliant! Enjoy!

P.S. The drummer is the great Sonny Greer.

Saturday Night Function

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on January 16, 2016 by telescoper

Well, it’s Saturday Night so I thought I’d post a bit of classic Jazz from the late twenties. This is from the superb Duke Ellington band, vintage 1929, which was resident at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City. I haven’t seen a personnel listing for this but a couple of the soloists are easy to identify: Barney Bigard on clarinet and Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone. The tune Saturday Night Function has become a traditional jazz standard but not many bands can get close to that unique Ellington sound, especially the growling trumpets. Enjoy!

In a Sentimental Mood

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on October 24, 2012 by telescoper

A late post this evening, as I’m just back from a short visit to Brighton. I travelled down there yesterday evening and stayed with an old friend in a house I lived in for a time about 25 years ago. I spent most of today meeting some of my future colleagues at the University of Sussex, who made me feel very welcome, and also catching up on some important things to be dealt with when I take over there in the new year. It’s all part of a gradual process of acclimatisation which I’ll need to do so I don’t take ages getting up to speed when I officially start. I didn’t get much time to wander about the town, but many Brighton memories have flooded back over the last couple of days. Cue an old favourite track that I listened to this evening on the train on the way home. It’s from a lovely album recorded by the unlikely combination of John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. They were men of different musical generations, but they admired each other enormously. It’s clear from the relaxed nature of this collaboration that neither felt he had any points to prove; each adapts his style to suit the other, with gorgeous results.

Solitude

Posted in Jazz with tags , on July 21, 2012 by telescoper