This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
This is not an overview of DUKE ELLINGTON’s career; that would take several columns. Instead I’ve selected mostly small groups, rather than his orchestra because that’s my preferred option.
Also, most of the selections feature other famous jazz musicians, so if you like piano jazz in small combos, this is for you.
Duke made one album with COLEMAN HAWKINS, but what a fine album it was. It has the prosaic title “Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins”. This was from 1962 and it’s surprising it took so long as Duke had been asking Hawk to collaborate for a couple of decades or so.
One of the tracks is a reworking of Duke’s Mood Indigo.
I always think of TERESA BREWER as a fifties pop singer, but there was more to her than that. In 1973 she recorded with Duke in what turned out to be his last recording session. That album is called “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing”.
From that we have Satin Doll, a song Duke wrote with Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Mercer.
Probably the most famous song associated with the DUKE is Take The A Train. It was written by Billy Strayhorn, a regular composer and arranger attached to the orchestra. The most famous version was recorded in 1941, but the one I’m featuring is just Duke with a drummer (Ben Riley) and bass player (Larry Gales).
Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me was written as an instrumental by Duke back in 1940. Later Bob Russell wrote words to it and it’s been recorded by just about every good singer around (and a few not so good ones, I imagine).
One of the best of those is AL HIBBLER. Al is generally considered the finest male singer who performed regularly with Duke’s orchestra. He later sang some of the finest ballads in the fifties
As with Coleman Hawkins, JOHN COLTRANE only made one album with Duke. That’s a real shame as this is a really fine record, and I suggest that you look out for it if you’re interested in jazz. It’s another with a prosaic title: “Duke Ellington & John Coltrane”. From that album here is Stevie.
C Jam Blues is another of Duke’s famous tunes. Everyone who is anyone in the world of jazz has recorded it. It’s usually an instrumental, but several folks put words to it and turned it into a song.
ALICE BABS, who was Swedish, and the Duke recorded an album together (“Serenade to Sweden”) which featured the tune (although the words aren’t readily discernable). To my ears Alice listened closely to Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
Unlike a couple of others in today’s column, JOHNNY HODGES and Duke Ellington made a couple of albums together. The one we’re interested in is called “Back to Back”.
Johnny is particularly soulful on this record and the backing band is first class - that’s Harry Edison playing the trumpet, Less Spann on guitar, Jo Jones on drums and Sam Jones playing bass. They play the old tune. Beal Street Blues.
“Black, Brown and Beige” was an extended jazz suite that Duke wrote and he and his orchestra performed it Carnegie Hall in 1943. Besides the recording of that concert, Duke also recorded the entire work in the studio with MAHALIA JACKSON on vocals.
There were a couple of alternate takes of some of the tracks that were included on the album. From that here is Part IV, also known as Come Sunday.
Duke gets a bit more avant-garde than usual when he teams up with CHARLES MINGUS and MAX ROACH. It almost crosses over into free jazz. There were no rehearsals and everything on the album was the first take.
They were contracted to record a second album but tensions were so fraught among the musicians that it didn’t eventuate. From that first and only album here is the title track, Money Jungle.
I’ll end with DUKE on his own – you can’t get a smaller group than that. He plays Solitude.