Saturday, 28 September 2013

South Bank Show

If you happen to be in London on 23 November, you can catch Essentially Ellington, a programme of events celebrating Duke Ellington which runs from 4:30 in the afternoon to after 10:00 pm, all as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, 2013. The website says:

An extended programme that explores the legacy of a towering figure in jazz history, paying tribute to a composer and bandleader who exerted a massive influence over the evolution of 20th century music. Evocative, richly-textured, and orchestral in scope, the Duke’s sound ranges from heart-stopping melody to rocking blues.

4.30pm - afternoon panel session investigates the enduring resonance of a key member of the jazz aristocracy. Free to all.
6pm - Ellington the pianist is celebrated in a solo set from one of this country’s finest exponents of ragtime and stride, Martin Litton. Free to all.
7.30pm - In the Spirit of Duke, where Tommy Smith’s Scottish National Jazz Orchestra explores repertoire from the 20s to the 50s with its own inimitable exuberance – ‘an exhilarating re-enactment of Ellington’s gigs, right down to the stage set-up’ (Guardian).  Mark Lockheart’s Ellington in Anticipation is both complementary and contrasting – and shows just how deeply the Duke’s sonic world continues to inspire successive generations. A series of Ellington’s most characterful themes are deconstructed and re-arranged for an ensemble of London’s finest – Seb Rochford, Finn Peters amongst them. 'wit, ingenuity and boldness…a delightful solution to the old/new wrangle' (Mojo).

10.30pm, post-concert Orphy Robinson and Cleveland Watkiss preside over the wheels of steel to remix the early Ellington big band sound for the 21st century. Free to all.

Full details, including ticket prices for the concerts, may be found here.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

More Rabbit

I posted a few months ago (here)about the auctioning of an alto saxophone once owned by Johnny Hodges and presently in the keeping of Frank Wess. A video about the saxophone has now been posted on You Tube:

Friday, 20 September 2013

Golden Duke

BBC News today commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Duke Ellington's visit to Afghanistan and an engagement in Kabul as part of his 1963 State Department tour.

Monica Whitlock of the BBC World Service writes:

Fifty years ago this week, Duke Ellington and his band played in a concert he later called one of the most memorable of his life. The performance was in Kabul, in Afghanistan, and even though Ellington was at the height of his fame, almost all traces of it have been lost.
For the organiser, Faiz Khairzada, and hundreds of Afghans in the audience, the concert was a high point of the early 1960s. "It was very exciting for me to have him in Kabul," says Khairzada, then head of Afghanistan's cultural affairs organisation.
It was he who met Ellington at the airport and drove him on a golden afternoon across Kabul, then a small city, to the stage he'd built at the Ghazi stadium. Khairzada was a jazz fan and they chatted on the way about Louis Armstrong and about plans to make home-grown Afghan films. "You make the movie, kid - and I'll do the music for it," Ellington offered, and in the Kabul of 1963, all that seemed possible.
Tickets were free and around 5,000 people made their way to the stadium to hear what to them was the new and strange sound of jazz. Ellington opened with Caravan, followed by Don't Get Around Much Anymore. Khairzada remembers that between numbers Ellington would come to the edge of the stage and chat to the audience.
"Of course the people didn't understand. This kind of music - blues and jazz - was very little known," he says. "But they loved the style. When the trumpets and saxophones came out and did their solos, people were awed - not so much by the sound, but the performance."
Ellington was puzzled when, halfway through the concert, the audience appeared to leave. But Khairzada explained that it was the hour of prayer, and the seats soon filled up again. King Zahir and the royal family came over to shake hands with the band after the concert.
Ellington remembered "riding round all night long" after the concert, listening to Afghan music in cafes. "They have their own thing going on there, and it's good," he told BBC chat show host Michael Parkinson in 1973.
The Kabul concert was part of a longer tour sponsored by the US State Department - jazz diplomacy playing out against the backdrop of the Cold War.
As early as 1953 (sic, that should read 1958) the American jazz giant Dave Brubeck had himself played Kabul. His visit, he said, had inspired his hit Nomad on the album Impressions of Eurasia. Ellington's tour took in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Iran and Lebanon, where, according to Ellington, "those cats were swinging". The band had reached Turkey on 22 November 1963 when the shocking news came that President John F Kennedy had been assassinated.

The BBC website gives further background information to the tour (The tour began on 6 September 1963, when Ellington and his orchestra flew from New York to Damascus, SyriaOver the next two-and-a-half months they played in Jordan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey) and links to Ehsan Khoshbakht's Take the 'A' Train. Congratulations to Ehsan for the name check and this particular post may be read here.

There is a marvelous clip of Ellington on the Parkinson show discussing his visit to Kabul in the BBC article. The whole piece may be read here.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

There's Snow Business...

A post script to yesterday's Ben Webster video.

In the course of researching, I discovered that Storyville Records are releasing a new CD of Ben Webster in Norway. The disc is available for purchase here. A cheaper - and more immediate - purchase is the download for those inclined.

In the absence of a bound set of 78s, I bought the next best thing and ordered the disc yesterday. Whilst it is not released until 14 October, I was able to listen to the music courtesy of Amazon's new 'Auto Rip' facility so the music is already ensconced on my iPod. It will certainly do until the real ting comes along.

The photograph of Ben in Norway at the top of this post, incidentally, comes from Storyville's Twitter account which I also discovered yesterday. The 'Tweets' may be accessed here.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

World Wide Webster

Here is some music perfect for late night listening, Saturday.

I've an abiding affection for the music Ben Webster made during the European years of his life. As work ran out in the States during the sixties, Ben decamped to the European continent. There is a fascinating documentary filmed in 1971, Big Ben (it's anthologized in the DVD here)which shows something of Webster's life in Europe, living in the seventies in modest circumstances like a defector to the USSR.

This engagement was filmed in Hannover in 1972 and features Oscar Peterson at the piano.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Times Cubed

I wish I could remember where I’d read the phrase ‘Cubist stride’ as a description of the piano style of Duke Ellington. I think it’s a wonderful expression which conveys not only how Ellington approached his playing (those angular, oblique sorties on the keyboard – great planks of sound to drive and exhort the band which carried over into his solo forays) but offers some insight into the place his music should occupy not just in music (no irrelevant attempts to shoe horn his work into the ‘classical canon’) but in twentieth century art – the Picasso of the piano!

And it’s a particularly appropriate description for the film clip above where footage of Ellington performing in trio with John Lamb and Sam Woodyard is intercut with  shots of a sculpture by Joan Miró.

The film was made on la Côte d’Azur by Norman Granz during Ellington’s sojourn there in 1966.