Archive for Duke Ellington

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.


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