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Duke Ellington – The Original Recordings That Inspired The Broadway Hit “After Midnight” – Legacy Recordings

Duke Ellington – The Original Recordings That Inspired The Broadway Hit “After Midnight” – Legacy Recordings 88430 85042 ****:

In the early 1930s, there was no more formidable musical organization than The Duke Ellington Orchestra. In The Oxford Companion To Jazz Edited By Bill Kirchner, an essay written by Mark Tucker on Duke Ellington describes him as follows: ”In the 1930s and 1940s, he (Duke Ellington) reached artistic maturity, winning acclaim as both a distinctive composer and a popular exponent of big band swing.” These original recordings from the late 20s to the early 40s, are perfect examples of Ellington’s mastery of his craft.

There were several iterations of the Ellington band on display in these early recordings, but contained therein was the foundation of those key players that stayed with the band for many years. These included trumpeters Cootie Williams and Bubber Miley, trombonists Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton and Juan Tizol, saxophonists Harry Carney and Johnny Hodges, along with drummer Sonny Greer. Regardless of the complexity of the arrangements, these musicians knew the band-book so well that very little phased them. Starting with “Daybreak Express” with its locomotive theme and rhythm, the band rushes headlong into the fray with fearless enthusiasm. In 1931, vocalist Ivie Anderson joined the Ellington band and remained for close to a dozen years. She had a straight-forward and natural voice which seemed to fit seamlessly with the band. Her versions of “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” from 1932, “I’ve Got The World On A String” from 1933, and “Stormy Weather” in 1940, were perfect examples of her ability to transform a song and make it her own.

Although Duke Ellington was a standout pianist, he rarely presented himself as such in the context of his band. He generally thought of the band as his instrument, and contented himself with piano fills, breaks, or song intros rather than extended solos. For the most part, he is hardly evident on these recordings except for the strong intro on “Rockin’ In Rhythm”. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when Ellington issued two trio recordings, firstly Piano In The Foreground in 1961 with Aaron Bell on bass and Sam Woodyard drums, and the more provocative Money Jungle in 1962 that had Charles Mingus on bass and Max Roach on drums, whereby listeners could really appreciate the Duke’s facility on the piano.

Although it probably was not until Duke Ellington began collaborating with Billy Strayhorn in 1938 (which lasted twenty-five years) that the orchestra really fulfilled Duke’s vision for the band, and his own ideas for longer form pieces such as Such Sweet Thunder and The Far East Suite. However the foundation was already laid out here with several of the numbers such as “Black And Tan Fantasy”, “The Mooche”, and “Creole Love Call”. The orchestrations and the tonal colour were a precursor of the band’s ultimate identity. This is a worthwhile potpourri of early Duke.

TrackList: Daybreak Express; Happy As The Day Is Long; I’ve Got The World On A String; Braggin’ In Brass; I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; Diga Diga Doo; East St. Louis Toodle-Oo; Stormy Weather; Raisin’ The Rent; Creole Love Call; The Mooche; Black And Tan Fantasy; It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing); Cotton Club Stomp; Rockin’ In Rhythm

—Pierre Giroux 

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