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.

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Duke in the Twenties

Posted by: Dave Douglas on November 9, 2010 @ 9:19 am
Filed under: Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

A couple weeks ago I was raving here about the late Ellington Suites. Still kind of mad about Such Sweet Thunder, The New Orleans Suite, The Latin American Suite, The Far East Suite. Others pointed me to their favorites from this period and from the period just before in the mid to late sixties.

The other day I went back to the collection and pulled out the complete recordings from the ‘twenties. It has been a while. Right now I am geeking out on 26/27/28. Such great music — the ensemble playing, the crazy arrangements, the hilariously loony vocals, the banjo as chordal percussionist, the bass player doubling on tuba. Also when you think that these recordings for the most part were made with one microphone it’s kind of astounding.

Now I see where Mosaic is going to be releasing the Complete — No, I mean Really Complete — 1930’s Ellington Orchestra. Yes, I’ll look forward to that. It’ll be a post-tour treat.

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We Love Late Ellington Suites Madly.

Posted by: Dave Douglas on October 18, 2010 @ 8:34 am
Filed under: Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

In Stanford this past summer one of their friendly drivers had Duke Ellington’s Latin American Suite in his disc player. I started to really look forward to those rides…

Photo: Roberto Polillo

The late sixties/early seventies suites like The Queen’s Suite, the UWIS Suite, The Goutelas Suite were always among my favorites. I covered from the UWIS Suite on my first recording, Parallel Worlds. They’re very different than the 20’s, 30’s, 40′ or 50’s Ellington. Billy Strayhorn must also get a nod for the richness and complexity, as well as the down to earth quality of the band’s playing.

After my summer driving experience I pulled out some of the other late suites and they have just been flooring me (again). New Orleans Suite, Suite Thursday, Latin American Suite — there’s some crazy stuff in there. The length and breadth of Ellington’s career is just astounding.

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