Duke Ellington’s America

Posted by: Dave Douglas on January 11, 2011 @ 9:43 am
Filed under: Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Music

Isfahan – Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges with Ellington’s band in 1965.

I just finished reading Duke Ellington’s America by Harvey G. Cohen and aside from simply enjoying the story and the context of Ellington’s life, it enriched my love of the music and deepened my awareness of some periods of his work I did not know as well. I recommend it.

I’m still partial to the 60s. The above clip from The Far East Suite shows (unintentionally?) the fraught fifty year relationship between these two masters. And yet the beauty of the performance supersedes any questions as to why Ellington is holding up the music and why Hodges doesn’t seem to want to look at it.

All that harmony! And yet it’s often just single lines or diads — no one is playing the piano. We’ll never know how much or which parts of this music Billy Strayhorn wrote. At least according to Cohen it was a relationship that neither of the collaborators ever discussed with anyone. Does it matter?

20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and even into the 70s with the Sacred Concerts. In a way Ellington offered one of the more radical, and yet most enduring, views of America.


  1. You can actually trace a lot of who wrote what by looking at the manuscript. There’s an excellent book on the subject by Walter van de Leur called Something to Live For.

    Comment by Dan — January 11, 2011 @ 11:49 am

  2. Fantastic … although I don’t think Johnny Hodges played a bad note his entire life. He is truly one of jazz’s greatest. I would agree. The 1960s is a deep, dark, beautiful period for Ellington. Maybe his greatest, although you will draw much debate about that one.

    Comment by Mike Grimaldi — January 11, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  3. Thanks for the tip, Dan. Going to pick up that book right now.

    Comment by Dave Douglas — January 11, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

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    Pingback by Tweets that mention Duke Ellington’s America -- Topsy.com — January 11, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  5. Great video! Isfahan was originally title “Elf”, a Strayhorn composition written years before the Ellington Orchestra’s trip to the Middle East. I just finished Hadju’s “Lush Life” — he describes the turmoil of that trip in amazing detail, (assassinations, bombings).

    Comment by Sam — January 14, 2011 @ 7:57 am

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