Will Big Bands Ever Come Back?
1. Tuxedo Junction
2. Smoke Rings
3. Artistry in Rhythm
4. The Waltz You Saved for Me
5. Woodchopper's Ball
6. Sentimental Journey
7. When It's Sleepy Time Down South
8. One O'clock Jump
10. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep
11. Rhapsody in Blue
12. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
Duke Ellington's Jazz Violin Session
1. Take The "A" Train
2. In a Sentimental Mood
3. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
4. Day Dream
5. Cotton Tail
6. Pretty Little One
7. Tricky's Licks
8. Blues in C
9. String Along with Strings
10. Limbo Jazz
11. The Feeling of Jazz
Duke Ellington Plays With The Original Score From Walt Disney's
1. A Spoonful of Sugar
2. Chim Chim Cheree
3. Feed the Birds
4. Let's Go Fly a Kite
5. Stay Awake
6. I Love to Laugh
7. Jolly Holiday
8. Sister Suffragette
9. The Perfect Nanny
10. Step in Time
11. The Life I Lead
1. Hello Dolly!
2. Call Me Irresponsible
3. Fly Me to the Moon
4. So Little Time
5. Danke Schoen
7. The Second Time Around
8. Never on Sunday
9. I Left My Heart in San Francisco
10. Blowin' in the Wind
11. Stranger on the Shore
1. Red Roses for a Blue Lady
4. All My Lovin'
5. A Beautiful Friendship
6. I Want to Hold Your Hand
7. Days of Wine and Roses
8. I Can't Stop Loving You
9. The Good Life
10. Satin Doll
11. Moon River
12. Ellington '66
The 1960s were a strange time for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The
euphoria aroused by the band's memorable performance at the 1956 Newport
Jazz Festival was starting to die away, and the arrival of rock'n'
roll and the Beatles had made life even more precarious for jazz big
bands. Yet Ellington continued to make some notable albums, such as
Afro-Bossa, The Far East Suite and collaborations with such
artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Coleman Hawkins. The band
had regained several of its star performers, including Johnny Hodges,
Lawrence Brown and Cootie Williams.
However, after the Duke signed up with Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records
label in 1962, he seemed to seek popularity by recording other people's
hits instead of his own material. Peter Gammond's biography of Ellington
says: "Ellington admirers...put aside new LPs of the period ...with
a feeling of disappointment". The five albums in this special-price
collection provide a cross-section of Duke's work from 1962 to 1966
- and not always his best work.
The first reissued LP is Will Big Bands Ever Come Back? -
a familiar question at the time this was recorded (1962-63). In a
way Ellington himself gave a positive answer to this question, because
his band had never gone away. But the swing era was long gone and
seemed unlikely to return - at least with the huge level of popularity
it once enjoyed. This LP harked back to a previous album - Ellington
'55 - which included tunes made famous by other bands, such as
In the Mood and Flying Home. It certainly seems strange
for the Ellington band to tackle such pieces as Rhapsody in Blue
or Fred Waring's Sleep, Sleep, Sleep.
However, Smoke Rings is heightened by Johnny Hodges's unique
alto sax, and Stan Kenton's Artistry in Rhythm is salted with
Ray Nance's violin: at first pizzicato and then bowed (with gypsy
rapture). Even when playing such apparently run-of-the-mill material,
Ellington could rely on his hand-picked musicians to add individuality.
And Duke's arrangements would often add a new dimension to well-worn
tunes - as in the unusual voicings he applies to Sentimental Journey.
The famous opening glissando to Rhapsody in Blue becomes a
stuttering tenor sax. And handing the theme statement of Goodbye
to Johnny Hodges was a master stroke, as his saxophone could express
poignancy so perfectly.
The second reissued LP (recorded in Paris in February 1963) is probably
my favourite among these five discs, as it uses a small group to showcase
three contrasting violinists: Stephane Grappelli (the doyen of jazz
violinists), Ellingtonian Ray Nance, and Denmark's Svend Asmussen.
Take the "A" Train includes all three, but Grappelli's
sophisticated violin is featured on In a Sentimental Mood.
Svend Asmussen's more staccato style is spotlighted in Don't Get
Around Much Anymore, and Ray Nance's harder-edged violin solos
on Day Dream - although Ray is at his most poetic here.
The almost unreadable liner notes are no help in identifying the
soloists on the remaining tracks, though listeners can probably sort
them out. Because the print is so tiny (as was the case with the previously-reviewed
Ray Charles compilation in the same series), I have not listed the
personnel. Some tracks simply have Duke leading a rhythm section,
but Billy Strayhorn joins in for a couple of numbers, and the tracks
on side two add altoist Russell Procope, tenorist Paul Gonsalves and
trombonist Buster Cooper. At any rate, the small group sizes allow
plenty of space for the violinists, and the musicians sound at ease
with the repertoire, which consists entirely of compositions by Ellington
If any of these popularising albums could be accused of "dumbing
down", it would be the Mary Poppins one, recorded in September
1964. Of course, there had previously been many jazz interpretations
of music from films and stage shows, starting with Shelly Manne's
1956 My Fair Lady with André Previn and Leroy Vinnegar,
but the Sherman brothers' songs for Mary Poppins hardly seem
a suitable case for jazz improvisation. Only about half of the songs
from the musical became really well-known and their general mood of
childish naivety seems inappropriate for a jazz orchestra.
Nevertheless, the opening Spoonful of Sugar demonstrates Ellington's
ability to transform even the most banal material into something special,
with Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney soloing over a shuffle beat. Jolly
Holiday is enlivened by a growling plunger-muted trumpet solo from
Cootie Williams, although the usually reliable Lawrence Brown sounds
shaky in his solo, which (like several tracks in this collection)
is faded out towards the end: an unusual thing to happen to such a
prestigious orchestra. The Perfect Nanny and Step in Time
seem inconsequential, but Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
is just right for Paul Gonsalves' flyaway tenor.
The last two discs in this collection give us the unlikely sound
of Duke Ellington interpreting the popular songs of the day. Ellington
'65 (actually recorded in April 1964) consists of the band playing
such tunes as Hello Dolly! and Blowin' in the Wind.
Once again, Duke's arrangements and his soloists save this album from
Lawrence Brown's trombone is telling in Call Me Irresponsible,
and Cootie Williams makes a nice job of Fly Me to the Moon,
against a background of typically off-the-wall Ellington harmonies.
Russell Procope brings a juicily tremulous clarinet tone to More
and Johnny Hodges flies high in The Second Time Around. Harry
Carney's earthy baritone sax states the melody of Stranger on the
Shore. Major Holley's bass holds things together securely, and
Sam Woodyard adds helpful comments on the drums. Yet throughout this
disc and the next, there is a feeling of the orchestra treading water
- and perhaps looking too intently at the written music to be very
Ellington '66 is subtitled "The very great Duke Ellington
Orchestra plays the very great hits". These include two Beatles
tunes but also two of the Duke's compositions: the venerable Satin
Doll and the entirely new title-track. But did you ever imagine
that Ellington would perform Charade or Moon River?
Not that these or the other items are bad performances; they just
lack some of the sparkle that one has come to expect from the Duke.
Still, there are those touches that made Ellington unique: like the
adventurous harmonies behind Hodges in People. Even I Want
to Hold Your Hand swings like mad, and All My Loving is
transformed with the help of a Latin-American rhythm similar to those
I can't recommend this set unreservedly, although Ellington fans
will still want to snap it up at its bargain price.