Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Many Happy Returns, Clark Terry!

Clark Terry! Clark Terry!

 Thank you for Clark Terry, the ninetieth anniversary of whose birth falls today.

Birthday wishes can be left at Mr Terry’s blog here.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Freedom of expression...

A fascinating discussion rehearsing the debate about what-is-and-isn't-jazz in a generally civil exchange is taking place at A Blog Supreme and this post here.

One of the contributors linked to a superb interview with Duke Ellington conducted in Sweden in 1973. The Duke speaks eloquently on the vexed issue of 'jazz' but also on 'music', 'taste' and 'money', his perceived relationship between the three drawing some flint. Here is the film:

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Blues in new print

Googling the 45 rpm version of EKE’s Blues in Orbit album recently, against an on-line auction in which I was interested, I happened across this clip on Youtube.

It is film of bassist Pierre Boussaguet and pianist Alain Boussaguet, recorded in 2009, laying down tracks for their album Still Dukish.

Despite the title Youtube have given to the piece, the composition is, in fact, Blues in Blueprint. A rare composition, not often performed, this recording is a treat! Their album is available here.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Stomping at the Savory

 Here is a link to The New York Times and the most marvelous piece of breaking news.

Howard Carter could not have been more excited by the prospect of excavating untold treasures than Loren Schoenberg must be auditing, at last,  the collection of jazz recordings made by William Savory which have been donated to the National Jazz Museum, Harlem.

It seems no exaggeration to say that these recordings may well make a shift in the geography of the landscape of classic jazz of seismic proportions, allowing us to look afresh at the work of relatively unacknowledged masters like Herschel Evans.

And, here, too – another page in the scrap book, a video of the processes through which the sounds are being coaxed from these venerable aluminium platters which could not find a happier home commercially than on the Mosaic label, on which point, more breaking news here.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Fit for the Queen

This is it. This is everything I would hope jazz in the twenty-first century might be: the classical forms of the music, the charts themselves even, an inspiration for new generations of young musicians, a departure point from which they can then make their own way.

I read some while ago on Sebastian Scotney’s excellent London Jazz site that Peter Edwards, Musical Director of  The Tomorrow’s Warriors Jazz Orchestra has the ambition to perform Duke Ellington’s Queen Suite for Queen Elizabeth II herself. It was written for HM The Queen fifty years ago last year (my earlier post on the subject is here). Ellington had the recording pressed privately and sent as a gift to the Queen. He never performed the suite for her. The ambitions of Tomorrow’s Warriors – should they be realized – means the circle will be completed.

Updates on the project can be received from the site dedicated to this new incarnation of The Queen’s Suite here.

There is an appeal at the moment for funds to complete a film by Corine Dhondee about the project. This is the trailer for that film. It has made my day.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Got it taped

Richard Nixon's White House had a less than happy history with reels of magnetic tape. Here's one cropped up on E bay in the small hours which seems to have got away without much fuss, though.  It's the original - or so the vendor claims - recording of the tribute to Duke Ellington held on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. The vendor describes the contents of the tape thus:

April 29th, 1969 "Tribute To Duke Ellington" East Room Of The White House.

The First Generation Reel to Reel Tape recorded by The White House Communications Agency in 3 3/4 IPS.
This is the full concert with speeches by Richard Nixon including the President playing piano and leading the audience in singing "Happy Birthday".

Track listing: Take the 'A' Train; Medley: I Got it Bad / Chelsea Bridge / Satin Doll / Sophisticated Lady / Just Squeeze Me / I Let a Song Go Out of my Heart / Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me / Don't Get Around Much Anymore / In a Mellotone; In a Sentimental Mood; Prelude to a Kiss; Ring Dem Bells; medley: Drop Me Off in Harlem / All Too Soon / It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing); Things Ain't What They Used To Be; Perdido; Warm Valley; Caravan; Mood Indigo; medley: Prelude to a Kiss / I Didn't Know About You; Praise God and Dance; Come Sunday; Heritage; Jump for Joy; Pat. 
Personnel: Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Earl Hines, Hank Jones, Billy Taylor- piano; Paul Desmond- alto saxophone; Gerry Mulligan- baritone saxophone; Jim Hall- guitar; Urbie Green, J.J. Johnson- trombone; Bill Berry, Clark Terry- trumpet; Milt Hinton- bass; Louie Bellson- drums; Joe Williams, Mary Mayo- vocal. 

Until a few years ago all that was available of this historic event was a cassette tape and more recently the VOA (Voice of America) tape has surfaced. I believe the reel to reel up for auction is the first generation tape from which all others were made.

The quality of the recording is simply outstanding. The tape has been carefully stored and no deterioration of sound quality has occurred. Side by side comparison to the available CD marks this tape as far and away superior in sound quality, crispness, content, and overall feeling that the listener is "in the room".

This is a one of a kind item. The length of the event on tape is 91 minutes, starting with R.M. Nixon speaking about Duke Ellington, and ending 90 minutes later with Duke performing a piano solo simply entitled "Pat".

If you have $3,700 to spare with which to start the bidding, brother, full details are here.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Many Happy Returns

Paul Gonsalves! Paul Gonsalves! Thank you for Paul Gonsalves...

on the occasion of the ninetieth anniversary of his birth.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

More Joya

Sunlit is the only word to describe the life and career of Joya Sherrill as these further pictures from a cache of copyrighted Life photographs illustrate.

Whether it was returning to school after her first tour of duty with the Ellington band in the early forties, stopping the show with her rendition of Katusha on Benny Goodman’s mission to Moscow in 1962 or her numerous returns to the Ellington fold to participate in the album My People or to appear at The Rainbow Grill, hers is a rich legacy.

Anyone about my age now but who grew up in New York, may well remember the children’s shows she presented, Time for Joya and Fun School. In the era, I suppose of Sesame Street, Joya’s programmes were syndicated locally. Typically, tapes of these programmes apparently no longer exist but on this page, there are links through to the only surviving sound recordings of the shows and they comprise a guest appearance by Duke Ellington. The recordings are priceless.

Here is a brief reminiscence of some of her finest early work - from standards she created during her first stay with the Ellington band such as I'm Beginning To See The Light and I Didn't Know About You delivered with malted milk smoothness to fine, rare work with Rex Stewart at Capitol and her appearance at Carnegie Hall in January 1946, singing The Blues from Black, Brown and Beige.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Joya Sherrill

I learned this evening of the passing of Joya Sherrill on 28 June. Her contributions to Duke Ellington's imperishable legacy will never be forgotten but how much more, of course, will she be remembered by her loved ones.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Noon Crowd

Driving home from work this afternoon, I was listening to one of several CDs I had burned of Duke Ellington's thirties big band recordings on the History label, against the day (soon, I hope) when Mosiac do the job properly.

The track was Billy Strayhorn's Something to Live For with Jean Eldridge, vocalist and I was struck, as I am always struck, by the immediacy, the power of the imagery in the lines:

My eye is watching the noon crowd
Searching the promenade
Seeking a clue...

So struck was I, in fact, that when I got home, I googled the phrase, the noon crowd on Images. One of the first hits it turned up was the photograph from Life I include above. The caption reads:

A view showing the noon lunch hour crowds streaming to the Bata Stores.
Photo: John Phillips./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Jan 1, 1938

Ellington's recording was made on the first day of Spring, 1939. Whilst Strayhorn probably composed the song some years earlier as a teenager (hence the truth and immediacy of the words, I suppose), it pleases me to think that the words were inspired by a very similar view.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Sole Responsiblity

Here’s a follow up to the video I posted last night, Duke Ellington – Model of Leadership.

I have no idea of the provenance of much of this portmanteau of moving pictures but it illuminates brilliantly, if briefly, Ellington’s unique way of keeping that juggernaut of a band of his on the road all those years.

Bandleaders often get a bad press and, perhaps, with some justification but I have always had a sneaking regard for even the most authoritarian of them. Ellington – who was a martinet by no stretch of the imagination – in concert always talked about the ‘solo responsibilities’ of the men in the band. It was in discharging those responsibilities that he would often punish any indiscipline – so a musician high on drink or drugs would have to take chorus after chorus. The leader’s, however, is the sole responsibility – a different kettle of fish altogether. It is, by enlarge, his name on the marquee which brings the punters in, his personality, in the absence of any particular musical talent in some instances – which holds the whole show together. How long did any of these bands survive in the immediate aftermath of their leader’s departure? How many ‘ghost’ bands eclipse the achievements of the name on the monogrammed music stands?

Bandleaders, generally speaking, seem to fall into two categories: the libertarian or the martinet. Woody Herman, for example or Charlie Barnet, the former; Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman the latter. To Russia Without Love by bassist Bill Crow who testifies to his experiences touring the Soviet Union under the Benny Goodman regime. The essay can be found here.

Two battling brothers famously covered all bases in the attitude to being leader of the band: Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Fortunately, they finally found common ground and recorded what, for my money, was amongst the finest work they ever did. The music which comprises their last hurrah has just been released, some of it for the first time on compact disc. More in the next post…

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Jazzhus Montmartre lives...

The legendary Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen has re-opened its doors today. In the past, the club has been host to performances from the likes of  Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz.

From the club's website:

"After 34 years of silence Copenhagen's legendary Jazzhus Montmartre re-opened May 1st in its original premises in Store Regnegade 19A with world class jazz on the stage and a jazz café run by the Michelin awarded team behind Era Ora and Acquamarina.

… The historic re-opening is initiated by the Danish jazz pianist Niels Lan Doky and his friend and entrepreneur Rune Bech. They operate the club on a non-profit basis with the help of donations and volunteers."

Apart from the rosta of gods who blew there, the club was also famous for the wall of sculpted masks designed by Mogens Gylling.

The  masks  "became an iconic symbol of Jazzhus Montmartre in the 1960's and 70's. For many years the ten masks with the strong expressions looked down from the wall at life in the club. Mogens Gylling, now 74, has been re-creating the art piece for the new Jazzhus Montmartre. They will be unveiled at a reception at Jazzhus Montmartre, Store Regnegade 19A, Copenhagen, on July 2nd at 2pm " as part of  The Copenhagen Jazz Festival which runs from 2-11 July.

The first gig at the re-opened club - which is sold out - starts tonight at 8:00pm, a Danish/ Swedish All Star Band (Anders Bergcrantz, trumpet;  Tomas Franck, tenor sax; Vincent Nilsson, trombone; Morten Ramsbøl, bass;Jacob Christoffersen, piano) led by US drummer Jeff 'Tain' Watts in a programme of the drummer's own compositions arranged by Laura Kahle.

I wish all concerned every success.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

De Paris Hot Club

I spent a very pleasant hour yesterday afternoon listening to the last of the music I have which was recorded in Stratford, Ontario 1956 as part of the Shakespeare Festival.

The music of Wilbur De Paris, Live in Canada 1956 is suited perfectly to a sunlit afternoon in early April. It is light, joyous music in the tradition of New Orleans.

The urge to preserve the music of New Orleans seems to have set in early. A delicate bloom, its most ardent admirers seemed to fear it would be flattened by the Swing Era – hence the founding of the Hot Record Society.

I must admit this kind of music is largely off my radar partly perhaps because I fear it had all but disappeared by the time recorded music began. There are no records by Buddy Bolden. Its greatest outpouring is, I suppose, in those records of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Hot Sevens – and how they were used in evidence and held against him down the years; how quickly they said Louis had ‘sold out’. Evolved, rather, I would have said – the Promethean fire of his horn setting first the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra ablaze and then on to those great big band sides of the thirties…

That’s what jazz does: moves on. And part of my resistance to the kind of music purveyed by the De Paris group is that in some ways it represents a quite deliberate step backwards. Perhaps De Paris was the Wynton Marsalis of his day.

The waters are muddied further by the music’s adoption in the ration book Britain of the fifties where it became known as ‘Trad’. In my opinion, the music of New Orleans is like fine wine – it doesn’t travel well. Transplanted across the Atlantic and played by the likes of Humphrey Lyttleton and Kenny Ball, it makes no sense whatsoever. What is the music of Louisiana doing in Luton?

I do find the music presented in this set as much about preservation as improvisation (‘jam yesterday’ as it were) and this is accentuated by De Paris’s pedantic and rather learned introductions. Omer Simeon, who played with Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, is presented as much as a living museum piece as a soloist. Within twelve months of this recording, though, Simeon had perished, dying at the age of fifty six from cancer of the throat – another link to that past Wilbur DeParis cherished so much vanished.

We do still have the records to treasure, though, and I do, pearls of great price, spilled for one afternoon at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival where The play’s the thing met Oh! Play that thing

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Duke Ellington's America

My copy of Dr Harvey G Cohen 's new book, Duke Ellington's America arrived in my hot little hand the day before yesterday.

The book has been anticipated eagerly by members of the Ellington community and fifty pages in, I can see why.

In these early chapters, Dr Cohen is able deftly to sketch  Ellington's formative years and at the same time place them within the political and cultural context of the African American experience. Ellington's belief in 'commanding' rather than 'demanding' respect makes so much sense of the 'political' stance he would take throughout the rest of his life. If the reader can expect this much economically expressed insight throughout the book, it will be a rare treat.

I shall post further thoughts on the volume as I make my way through it (the day job permitting!)

Such stuff...

For our celebrations of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of 1956, I thought I would post some images from the scrapbook Miss Barbara Reid kept during the years she was associated with the Ellington in her capacity as music promoter.

When the scrapbook was put up for sale last year, its contents were described thus:

“The scrapbook comes from the estate of a Miss Barbara Reid from Stratford, Ontario, Canada. The history on Miss Reid is that she was a trained pianist as a young woman who went on to work for the Stratford Shakesperean Festival. The only reference I could get to her exact job was one that referred to her as responsible for music promotion at the festival. She worked there during the 1950's. She had direct contact with Duke Ellington and his management. The time period of the scrapbook is roughly 1956 - 1963. The scrapbook is 11 1/4" wide by 16" tall (28.5 cm by 40.5cm). It has a brown cover and manilla coloured pages. The pages are numbered 1 - 81. Pages 13/14 and 61/62 are missing. The overall condition of the scrapbook is very good with only a couple minor page rips. The covers of the scrapbook have curled corners (minor). Some of the memorabilia is loose from the album and lots are glued, stapled into the album. Not every page has something on it - the odd numbers are full and some of the even numbers.

“The connection between Miss Reid and Duke Ellington was a professional one. The Stratford Festival commissioned Duke Ellington (and his co-writer Billy Strayhorn) to compose a new score for the Festival. They came up with 'Such Sweet Thunder'. This was a big hit for Duke Ellington and he even played in the late 50's in England for the Queen. This commission led to a long relationship between the Festival and Duke.

“THE STUFF - Start off with picture #1 - An original 3" by 5" postcard photo of Duke Ellington signed 'Best Wishes Duke Ellington'. I have no reason to believe that this is anything but original. With the personal relationship Miss Reid had with Duke Ellington, I would assume she got it from him. The scrapbook has been in storage for 15 years, so that eliminates any digital highjinks. If you are not happy with it - RETURN IT - NO PROBLEM. This picture is not glued into the album.

“The scrapbook is in chronological order. Page 3 is a glued down playbill of the Festival from July 20, 1956 (pictures #10 and #11) which featured Duke and his Orchestra. Page 5 is a glued in Time Magazine (Canada Edition) with Duke on the cover and an article in the magazine. Also on page 7 is a cover shot of Duke on Down Beat magazine from Dec 26, 1956.

Page #9 - This is a glued in - fold out. It is a Merry Christmas / Happy New Year message from Duke Ellington. I can only assume these were mailed out to people. This one measures 16" by 21". The message reads - ' Music is the tonal reflection of Beauty .. and yours is such a lovely melody'. There are in total five of these different Xmas / New Years messages. Picture # 9 shows one that is glued onto page 55 and reads 'Love you, love you, love you madly Bonne Noel et Joyeux Annee'. A picture of the Effiel Tower holds a sign that says 'Duke Ellington'. This was obviously sent while he was in Paris?? Two of these messages are not glued into the scrapbook. Some show tape marks and there is a small ripped corner on the Paris one. Page 11 contains Picture #8. It is a hand drawn cartoon that says ' But Miss Reid - those jazz persons are so uncouth!'. This cartoon is not signed.

“In 1957 - Sunday Evening - April 28 - at The Town Hall in New York City, Duke Ellington premiered his Stratford Festival hit 'Such Sweet Thunder'. Included in the scrapbook are the playbill for that night - glued onto page 21. Miss Reid was in New York City for that performance and was out on the town while there. On page 18, you can see a brochure for BIRDLAND with reference to Duke on the cover and inside pictures. Check out Picture #5 for this brochure. While in New York, Miss Reid went out to the Park Sheraton Hotel to see Duke perform after his debut at the Town Hall. Picture #2 shows her sitting at the piano with Duke. This is on page 37 and is stapled/glued down. Two other 8" by 10" black and white photos of Duke sitting at a table with Miss Reid and two others are loose in the scrapbook. The photos have a credit on the back to Bill Mark - Park Sheraton Hotel and reference numbers (to the negatives??). Pages 18 to 39 are full of newspaper articles and clippings referring to her time in New York and Duke.

“Page 41 has two black and white 8" by 10" photos stapled/glued in. They are of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and another man. You can see one of these in Picture #3. Picture #4 is on page 43 and is of Duke Ellington sitting while an artist/sculptor does a bust of Duke. I don't know what this was for.

“Page 51 has a letter from John Celley?? to Miss Reid detailing set-ups for Duke and his band and asking her to detail room arrangements for them. On page 48 are three of these hand drawn band set-ups. They can be seen in Picture #6 and #7.

“Pages 55 and 57 are newspaper slippings relating to Duke Ellingtons trip to England in late 1958 to see the Queen.

“There is a telegram to Miss Reid from Mary?? on page 59. The telegram was sent from Stratford to Hotel Anderson in Ishpeming, Michigan. It says ' Entire program thrown out please try to get Jimmy Stewart to play Lear and Duke for Puck in Mid Summer Nights Dream Hitchcock already signed to direct Love. It is dated May 12/59. The telegram is picture #12.

“Throughout the scrapbook are many glued in playbills like the one on page 63. It is from October 1959 - Berliner Festwochen (Festival??). The title is 'William Shakespeare Duke Ellington Such Sweet Thunder'. There are many other articles relating to Duke Ellington and his time in the 1950's and early 1960's. Page 81 is a press release from the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, dated Feb 4/63. It is about Duke agreeing to compose the score for 'Timon of Athens' one of four plays offered that summer during the Festival's 11th season.

“There are also two 8" by 10" black and white photos of Duke Ellington - the kind given out (press, ..). They are not glued in, but one has a sticker obscuring the bottom corner. There are three booklets from the 1987, 1989 and 1990 International Conferences of the Duke Ellington Study Group. 1987 - Inn on the Park - Toronto. 1989 - Mayflower Hotel - Washington DC and 1990 - Ottawa - Chateau Laurier.

“Wilbur de Paris is featured on page 77 and 78. There is a postcard written to Miss Reid from Wilbur when he was in Africa on tour. It is signed by him. There is also a 8" by 10" black and white stapled to page 78 of Wilbur and group at the airport in Addis Ababa - Ethiopia. They were on a special tour arranged by the President's Special International Program for Cultural Presentation. This was in May of 1957.”

For our final post on this Stratford season, I am waiting for a compact disc of the music played by Wilbur de Paris. More as soon as we have it…

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The pianist

Twelve months ago in celebration of Duke Ellington's birthday, I posted here a photograph of Duke Ellington taken, I presume, at a party in Stratford, Ontario.

The lady sitting on Ellington's right is Miss Barbara Reid. She was also a pianist and worked for the Stratford Shakepearean Festival in some capacity as a publicist. Clearly, she knew Ellington and liaised with his management prior to his several appearances at the Festival. About twelve months ago, a scrapbook of Miss Reid's cuttings came up for auction on Ebay.  Here are two photographs from the volume.

Bill Mark, Photo of (left to right) Mary Jolliffe, Michael Langham, Barbara Reid and Duke Ellington at the Sheraton Park Hotel in New York, April 1957. 

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A noble duke, in nature...

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival at which the Oscar Peterson Trio’s performance was recorded straddled quite a few weeks. A month or so before the trio’s appearance, the Duke Ellington caravan rolled into town. In many ways, Ellington’s appearance was even more auspicious, resulting as it did in inspiration for his Shakespearean suite Such Sweet Thunder.

Forgive my quoting so extensively from Jack Chambers’ article Bardland: Shakespeare in Ellington’s World but his essay is the definitive word on the subject. In the Canadian magazine Coda in 2005, Mr Chambers wrote:

"Ellington’s inspiration for transliterating Shakespeare into jazz came from a chance encounter, as unexpected in its way as was his fixation on God in his final years. In July 1956, Ellington was booked to play two concerts at the Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario. It did not seem special at the time. From 1956 until 1958, while Louis Applebaum was musical director, the Stratford Festival booked summer jazz and classical concerts as adjuncts to the dramatic offerings. Besides Ellington in 1956, Wilbur de Paris, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and the Modern Jazz Quartet also played evening concerts, spaced out in July and August. In the time-honoured tradition, the jazz musicians played their one- or two-night stands and then hit the road for the next one a day or two away (although Peterson’s performance left a permanent memento in a Verve recording that captured the head-banging competitiveness of his original Trio as no other record had to date). Not Ellington. He played, and then he carried with him for the rest of his days what he had seen and heard all around him in the quiet anglo-celtic town of 20,000 in southwestern Ontario.

"Ellington was often sensitive to the places he played in spite of their profusion. He arrived in Stratford from a resort ballroom in Bala, about 150 miles to the north, played non-consecutive nights on Wednesday and Friday, the 18th and 20th, with concerts on the alternate Thursday and Saturday nights at the Brant Inn in Burlington, just 70 miles east. (The Wednesday performance is preserved Live at the 1957 [sic] Stratford Festival, Music & Arts CD-616 [1989].) Tom Patterson, the soft-spoken newspaperman whose persistence had persuaded the town council to risk a top-flight professional Shakespeare festival on the basis of the coincidence of the colonial namesake (not only Stratford itself, but the River Avon running through it), met Ellington and Harry Carney on their arrival, and was flattered when the Duke asked him to show him around. Ellington stayed in Stratford three days, commuting to the Brant Inn in the middle, and it is worth speculating that he might have altered his lifelong routine by hauling himself out of bed for mid-afternoon matinee performances of Henry V and Merry Wives of Windsor on the Festival’s main stage.

"The Shakespeare Festival was (and is) a highbrow spectacle in the bourgeois heartland, and none of it was lost on Ellington. Stratford’s thrust stage, modeled on the Elizabethan Globe, was new not only to Stratford but to the theatre world at large. It added to the excitement of the whole heady venture. Shakespeare had seldom been treated so well. His plays were directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Michael Langham, costumed resplendently by Tanya Moiseiwitsch, and acted by a brilliant young company that included Lloyd Bochner, Christopher Plummer and William Shatner. Ellington loved it, so much so that he began finagling to be part of it. He opened his Stratford concerts with a new piece he called Hark the Duke’s Trumpets. The Shakespearean resonance of the title is Ellingtonian licence; it is a fanfare played by trombones, not trumpets (later recorded as Bassment). More important, Ellington told everyone he met in Stratford and in the months that followed that he and Billy Strayhorn were preparing a jazz suite based on Shakespeare for a premiere at the Festival the next summer."

Ellington’s appearance at the Festival Concert Hall, Stratford, Ontario took place, then, less than a fortnight after his barnstorming appearance at Newport.

It may be my imagination, but do I detect a new found confidence in Ellington’s work – and indeed in the entire band’s performance during the set – as a result of their being ‘born again’ just a couple of weeks earlier? Certainly, the stars are all in place that might augur such success. In particular, Billy Strayhorn had returned to his role as Ellington’s constant composing companion and Johnny Hodges, too, had returned to the fold. In his comments during the course of the concert, as a preface to Hodges’ solo on I Got It Bad… the altoist had just returned from his own "exciting adventures leading a band" or words to that effect…

Paul Gonsalves delivers here another tour-de-force along the lines of the Wailing Interval that set Newport alight on an extended version of the band’s theme. It does not have quite the incendiary effect it did at the earlier festival, however. In fact, these rollicking extended solos of Gonsalves had been brewing quite a while, since such an excursion was featured on the original studio recording of the concerto version of A Train some four or five years previously. The boppish Betty Roche vocal is aped, too, by Ray Nance – one of his several party pieces. But the concert proves to be the usual embarrassment of Ellingtonian riches as the band members each exercise their ‘solo responsibilities’. Clark Terry – who blew through the band like a zephyr in the fifties, delivers a modish extemporization on a pianissimo version of Harlem Air Shaft; Harry Carney delineates the contours of Sophisticated Lady; Cat Anderson serves up one of those searing Flamenco-tinged specialities in La Virgen De La Macarena; Jimmy Hamilton’s own composition Clarinet Melodrama (which Duke likens to a western) is delicious as are the obligatti he serves up behind Duke’s recitation of Pretty and the Wolf which he never delivered with more élan.

The Japanese pressing of this compact disc (to my ears, a slightly smoother ride than its US counterpart) is very difficult to come by. The re-issue is quite rare, too, but used copies can be had here.

In celebration this month of both Ellington’s and The Swan of Avon’s birthdays, I will post selections soon from a special scrapbook pertaining to Ellington’s Stratford appearances.

In the meantime, the full text of Jack Chambers' article can be read in the bulletin of the Duke Ellington Music Society  here.

A couple of fascinating links for further reading on the Ellington Shakespeare connection which I haven’t yet had time to investigate fully myself may be found here and here.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Such sweet sorrow

The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival is – to mis-quote Whitney Balliett – the sound of civilisation.

I was prompted to take the CD down from the shelf by the news of the recent passing of Herb Ellis. The album is often cited as the finest example of this edition of the Peterson trio on record – chiefly by Peterson himself on the liner notes to the original album.

Somewhere between a thundering tour-de-force and a trip to the moon on gossamer wings, the album is seventy-five minutes of sonic bliss. Back on home ground in his native Canada, perhaps this is what inspires Peterson to the heights the group here scales. His characteristically fractal solos are caught in a shimmering web of interplay with Ellis’s guitar and the bass of Ray Brown. As Peterson himself has said “at times, depending on where we were on the instruments, it was almost impossible to tell which instrument you were hearing.”

This is my own favourite edition of the trio, perhaps because, at times, its sound reminds me of Nat Cole’s own early jazz work with guitar and bass. Herb Ellis works the full textures of the guitar into the warp and woof of the trio’s performance: the ticking, time-keeping reminiscent of Freddie Green’s metronome tempi; those sudden cat-like springs which send notes from Peterson’s piano scattering like pigeons; and then the pure, melodic lines. I was reminded at times of Paul Desmond’s work – his solos fluttering like a bird behind the mullioned windows of Brubeck’s piano at the Oberlin concert (the first jazz album I ever bought). Perhaps that is the contrast of the melody against the fugitive stride of the piano – instant Bach; Baroque and roll, if you will…

It is entirely appropriate that the concert culminates in a piece by John Lewis dedicated to Oscar’s sister. Daisy’s Dream is an Ellingtonesque piece about a music box. The woody sound of the trio – at times like fingers running down a louvred shutter – is the ultimate music box.

The trio’s inventive use of roundelay throughout the set, the trio as, virtually, a sort of Elizabethan string section - the stuff that dreams are made on…

The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival is available here.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Just a -sittin' and a-rockin'

Last night I finished reading Someone to Watch Over Me: The Life and Music of Ben Webster by Frank Buchman-Moller.

It was a life-enhancing experience. I cannot recommend the book highly enough. What I learned there fired the imagination and will be the sauce to quite a few posts over the next couple of months. Not least, I finished the book with a long list of albums to track down and squirrel away.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Webster's career - which concluded, as everyone knows, with a lengthy sojourn on the continent of Europe - was his collaboration in 1972 with the Danish rock band Savage Rose.

Courtesy of Youtube, here is one of Ben's performances with the band. Frank Buchman-Moller's superb treatise on the tenor man's life and work can be found here.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr Avakian

Record producer George Avakian is ninety-one years old today. Many Happy Returns, sir.

By way of celebration, Marc Myers at Jazz Wax has Part One of an interview with Mr Avakian. Go here.

I love the fact that it was English Literature - and Sherlock Holmes - which inspired him to be a writer. A man after my own heart. These Jazz Wax interviews are priceless.

Looking at the library behind George in this picture (left), one can see the covers of some of his triumphs. Coincidentally - and courtesy of a certain internet auction house, I recently acquired a copy of CL 558, The Music of Duke Ellington.

An anthology of Duke's original recordings from the thirties, I wonder the extent to which the album became a defining text in the Ellington canon. I will write about the album more in future posts. Suffice it to say, the vinyl trounces comprehensively any digital re-issue of same. The music lives and breathes.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Impromptu in Ellingtonia

Some of the richest and most rewarding writing for dance bands dates from that period at the end of the forties and into the fifties when the Swing Era had effectively blown itself out.

It's one of my favourite periods of Ellington – favourite, period, in fact; there’s the First and Second Herman Herds, the indefatigable Kenton’s Innovations Orchestra. Then there are the more ‘pastel’ bands – Claude Thornhill, Boyd Raeburn – and Ike Carpenter.

I have been spending a great deal of time lately listening to Ike Carpenter and his Orchestra: Dancers in Love on the Jazz Band label – a British company – which like Hep – does sterling work in ensuring the continued circulation of these rare recorded treasures.

Carpenter’s was a smaller band – between ten and a dozen players – almost a territory outfit, working out of the Los Angeles area in 1946 and 1947.

Appropriately enough, the pianist studied at Duke University – for his band was characterized by an infatuation with all things Ellingtonian. The title of this collection, for example, is taken from a movement of The Perfume Suite – one of those sugared parlour pieces – like The Clothed Woman – which are typical, largely, of this period alone in Ellington’s output. Carpenter gives a sure, but fleet-fingered touch to this jaunty refrain, couched in rich section writing which does not betray the relatively small size of the band.

And this is true of the other pieces on this CD, from the band’s theme, Mercer Ellington’s Moon Mist to Strayhorn’s Take the A Train.

It is not a pale imitation the band offers of these charts, however, but a homage of great sophistication and sensitivity. This is evident in the new music which was borne out of these arrangements. I had been eager to track down Carpenter’s recording of Day Dream, for example, ever since I discovered the Charlie Barnet album Lonely Street last year (see here). In not wanting to score the number for alto saxophone alone – thus echoing Johnny Hodges’ work on the original version too much, arranger Paul Villepigue scored the chart mainly for the leader’s piano, transposing the alto saxophone to a specially written introduction. This introduction became the basis for Paul’s own composition, Lonely Street. You can hear a song being born in those opening moments of Ike Carpenter’s Day Dream.

There is a fascinating article from Downbeat about the Ike Carpenter band at the website dedicated to Paul Villepigue’s memory here.

More detail on this particular arrangement of Day Dream can be found, too, by visiting the Archive page and scrolling down.

Ike Carpenter and his Orchestra: Dancers in Love can be purchased here.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Wailing interval.

For a superb piece on Paul Gonsalves by Matt Lavelle, go here.

The website dedicated to Paul which is mentioned in the article may, I believe, be found here.

Paul did, indeed, hold a cherished place in the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Out of Africa

To complete a triptych of Ellingtonian video postings, here is footage of the Ellington band - and Cat Anderson soloing - from a travelog-style film of the Festival Mundial de Arte Negra - Dakar, 1966.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The provenance of Beyonce

This portmanteau of visual and aural delights is apparently called in the popular vernacular a 'mash-up'. It features one of Beyonce Knowles' rhythm novelties set to Duke Ellington's Harlem Air Shaft. Ellington's music stands up - of course -remarkably well: its timeless vitality is as valid today as ever. And Ms Knowles is clearly no slouch either when it comes to punishing the parquet. She could certainly more than hold her own in a Cotton Club Revue.

And, as if to prove plus ca change, plus ca meme change, when the provenance of these Ellington reels was identified by the members of Duke-Lym, here is further footage of hoofers. Firstly - with sound - the Ellington portion of the film which was used in the mash-up...


And, finally, the entire documentary footage, without sound, of Harlem.

HARLEM ( aka HARLEM, NEW YORK ) - Correct Speed version

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Middle East Suite

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in concert, 14 November, 1963, The Khuld Hall, Baghdad (date and location provided by Sjef Hoefsmit, Duke Ellington Music Society).