Thursday, 30 October 2014

Downtown Uproar

Savannah Music Festival LIVE - 429 - 

Downtown Uproar

Original air date: week of October 31, 2011
Duke Ellington is widely regarded as one of the most important composers in the history of music and his orchestra in the mid-1930s was at the beginning of his creative peak, featuring some of the finest soloists in the history of jazz. During the years 1936-1940, a series of small group sessions led by Ellington and his sidemen - Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges - were recorded for a variety of different labels, and they've all stood the test of time. Tune in for excerpts from a 2011 SMF original production entitled "Downtown Uproar", featuring a group of renowned musicians performing some of these classic works under the musical direction of Ted Nash. Performers include Marcus Roberts, Joe Temperley, Wycliffe Gordon, Jeff, John and Gerald Clayton, Terell Stafford, Rodney Whitaker, Ron Westray and many others.

A great programme of Ellington small group music recast by Ted Nash for the Savannah Music Festival, 2011 is available...
here ... (click on link to be taken to website)

Friday, 24 October 2014

Avid Collector

The double CD pictured above will be released on the Avid label on 17 November.

I hardly need to buy this release since I own several versions - on vinyl and CD - of the 'highly prized tracks' already but I'm standing in line on pre-order.

Why? Well, cleverly, the release makes use of the artwork for a famous HMV 10" record release of the 1950s - which, incidentally, is the best-sounding version of these classics you will ever hear.

Presumably those vinyl transfers form, in part, some of the selections here. Which brings me to the second reason for buying this release: the mastering is by Avid's Dave Bennett, whose reputation for getting the best sounds out of source material goes before him. Certainly the publicity department has gone into overdrive. Witness their advertising copy:

AVID presents classic Duke Ellington music featuring “Highlights Of The Great 1940-42 Band” including original liner notes on a finely re-mastered and low priced double CD.
49 highly prized tracks in remarkable sound quality. Some quotes from the original liner notes:- “No one has combined jazz composition, orchestra and performance with more telling effect than Duke Ellington”. “Ellington admirers will welcome this set, embracing under one cover ten of his most original and varied works from a period representing a peak in his highly productive career. Not only was his band crammed with the greatest galaxy of talent that it ever contained, it was also the point when his creative powers were stretched to the utmost logical limits of the “three minute” musical form.” “This is not only a set of Ellington masterpieces, it also goes a long way towards unfolding the unique process by which his orchestra has undoubtedly become the most creative unit jazz has ever known”. Phew! You gotta hear this stuff! And to conclude with a quote from Digby Fairweather’s liner notes; “One of the joys of this collection - a direct tribute to Dave Bennett’s supreme skills as engineer - is (for the first time) to pick up clearly on such small artistic brush-strokes which helped turn Ellington’s works into instant masterpieces and (significantly) into music which commands repeated listening and study today..every track in this collection is seminal music reminding us with brilliant new clarity that we shall not hear its like again.”
All tracks plus have been digitally re-mastered.

And, thirdly, the price - at £6.99 - is a steal.

If you have stumbled upon this blog post by accident, buy these discs: they will change your life. If you're a collector, this issue is another good excuse to give these timeless classics a spin.

It's possible to order direct from Avid's website here.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Crystal Set

DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS FAMOUS ORCHESTRA Thursday, November 7, 1940 Crystal Ballroom Fargo, North Dakota Personal Appearance and Local Radio Broadcast Original Recording by Jack Towers and DIck Burris Remastering by Jack Towers Saturday, May 6,1944 11:45 p.m. - Midnight Sustaining Broadcast Hurricane Club New York John Newhouse, announcer (Mutual)

Whilst we all have (probably several) copies of the famous Fargo recording, the air check from the Hurricane Club in this broadcast is new to me and certainly officially unissued so far...

This is one from the series of from The Star Spangled Radio Hour which originates out of the Glenn Miller Archive at the University of Boulder , Colorado.

I'm glad KEZW Studio 1430 have decided to make these broadcasts available as embedded players. Previously, it was possible to download the broadcasts but this was stopped and the broadcasts disappeared after a week or two. All the Ellington material comes from the Ed O'Brien collection. Click on the hyperlinks in this post to find out more.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Organ-frowned-on Spaces

This interesting LP popped up recently on Ebay. Not one I’d ever seen before but a little Googling and I find Les Strand qualifies as a bona fide Ellingtonian.

A little information about the organist first, however, from Geoff Alexander’s history here.

“(Jimmy) Smith 
himself, while indicating that he has not been directly influenced by any 
other organ players, does admit to enjoy listening to only one other, an 
obscure organist named Les Strand, who he refers to as the "Art Tatum of 
the organ."
Strand, whose father spent most of his career as a musician playing in 
shows on the theatre circuit in Chicago, taught himself to play the 
Hammond at the age of fourteen. He began playing in a funeral home before 
hitting the lounge circuit, and was probably the purest bebop organist who 
ever played the instrument. His obscurity results from a combination of 
factors: an inappropriate record label (Fantasy, which had nothing in 
their catalogue remotely like Strand's jazz organ, and which refused to 
give much promotion to him), a non-traditional organ (he recorded mostly 
on the Baldwin, which is not a "bluesy" instrument), and technique, which 
was so complex that the basic jazz-blues oriented organ trio setting would 
simply not have worked well with his Tatum-Tristano influenced style. 
Strand rarely traveled out of the Chicago area, and never appeared in a 
large East Coast city. He is rare among jazz organists in that his first 
instrument was the organ itself (he started with the Hammond at age 14), 
and his total recorded output consists of three albums on Fantasy, two of 
which feature the Baldwin organ, and a promotional album for Yamaha. 
Interestingly, neither Leonard Feather, who produced his Yamaha record, 
nor Chicago jazz radio programmer Dick Buckley, who wrote the liner notes 
for one of his records, knew Strand's whereabouts, and small wonder: he 
retired from active playing at the young age of 40 to pursue a teaching 
career in 1964, has since retired from teaching, and now lives in Kansas 
Strand's version of "If I Had You" (example number 10 on the cassette) is 
a tour-de-force of dynamics, comping, and just plain magnificent keyboard 
technique. The "cool" sound of the trio is a result of the fact that the 
guitarist 'and the drummer were currently then working with accordionist 
Art Van Damme's group, and were accustomed to playing in a relatively 
quiet setting (the drummer, in fact, uses brushes throughout the album.) 
Although he preferred the Hammond, Strand's father worked in the Chicago 
Baldwin store and was able to introduce him to the wider dynamic range of 
that organ. The Baldwin, however, did not record as well as was expected, 
and therefore he returned to the Hammond for his final recording on 
Fantasy, "Les Strand Plays Ellington".) The Baldwin does emphasize 
Strand's horn-like quality, and in using the "vibes" setting, actually 
evokes the sound of a guitar more than anything else.”

As for the Ellington connection, well, Exhibit One: this from Ken Vail’s excellent Duke’s Diary:

Whether this Milt Grayson recording was ever released, it is hard to say. I haven’t been able to find a trace of a commercial release on line.

In addition to producing Les Strand, the keyboardist – who, in fact, favoured a Baldwin organ – also played with the Ellington band. A contributor to the Organissimo jazz discussion forum writes:

"I had the privilege of studying Jazz Organ with him for two years in Chicago and he personally gave me a few recordings on Cassette Tape, which I still have and am remastering to CD but probably not for release. He did have a unique and complex style. I have a copy of that Yamaha recording he did, which was done after her won the top prize at the world finals of the Yamaha International Electone Festival. I believe Les was the first american to win the world title in that competition. At one point he did several recordings with Duke Ellington when he would come to the Blue Note Jazz club in Chicago but Les told me that, unfortunately, those recordings got lost somewhere in the Ellington estate. I don't think they were ever published but it sure would have been a blast to hear. He was immensely talented and a great teacher.(My emphasis.)" 

I wonder will these Blue Note recordings ever come to light? Until then, we have this souvenir of Les Strand’s association with Ellington.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

On the box...

The British Broadcasting Corporation launched recently a new service, Genome Beta. The website 

"... contains the BBC listings information which the BBC printed in Radio Times between 1923 and 2009. You can search the site for BBC programmes, people, dates and Radio Times editions."

Type Duke Ellington into the search engine and the list of delicacies thus served is mouth-watering.

The list refers, of course, to programmes broadcast, not recordings archived. How much of this material was subject to the frequent cullings the organisation made to recycle tape or save space is anybody's guess.

I think it is the BBC's intention eventually to make much of its surviving archive available on line as a sort of pay-per-view facility. Perhaps some of these gems will see the light of then and we can watch or listen to the recordings.

Until then, the list makes fascinating reading and is an interesting research tool to develop those Ellingtonian discographies and itineraries. It may be viewed here.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

For the record...

I recently blogged about an extremely rare Ellington CD Concert, Piano Solo and Orchestra in this post, La Bellissima Africaine.

A comment was left by a kind reader who under the nom de plume Reminiscing in Tempo, runs a channel on YouTube dedicated to Duke Ellington. He promised to upload the Cd and sure enough, in two parts, here it is.

The discographical details on the album are rather less than accurate, however. In answer to a query about the female vocalist in the 'Medley' portion of the disc, I did a little research on line and I hope the following 'screen shot' from the Duke Ellington Music Society Bulletin will clarify the actual provenance of these invaluable recordings.