Notes and Editorial Reviews
1 Take The "A" Train
2 Johnny Come Lately
3 Swamp Goo
4 Knob Hill
6 La Plus Belle Africaine
7 Rue Bleue
8 A Chromatic Love Affair
10 The Shepherd
11 Tutti For Cootie
12 Freakish Lights
Duke Ellington Orchestra with Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, Lawrence Brown etc.
rec. Liederhalle, Stuttgart, March 6, 1967
The Ellington road show hit Stuttgart in March 1967. Cootie Williams was back in the serried ranks but Billy Strayhorn was nearing the end; he died a few weeks after the concert. The tunes played reflect a
diverse range of Strayhorn and Ellington and beyond - beyond being represented by Raymond Fol's tune
Salome. According to W.E. Timmer's massive
Ellingtonia a number of other songs were performed but aren't presented in this 73 minute disc and they include long time favourites such as
Blood Count, and
Things Ain't as well as
Mount Harissa and
We must be grateful for the material that has been preserved and presented in such good sound here. Procope and Hamilton form a formidable clarinet choir, echoing the late 20s days in
Swamp Goo with the former taking an extensive cadential passage.
Knob Hill is a sinuous Latin American swinger with hints of Horace Silver. Gonsalves rips through it. One can hear Ellington's very ducal piano prompts in that genial finger snapper,
Eggo, whilst Cat Anderson's trumpet, like a dazzling Bird of Paradise, is peculiarly iridescent in
La Plus Belle Africaine. We also hear Harry Carney's evocative lowing, Jimmy Hamilton's famously `straight' clarinet and the fine bass playing of John Lamb, often overlooked in discussions on the subject of Ellingtonian rhythm sections.
Lawrence Brown has his feature on
Rue Bleue whilst Carney's is on
A Chromatic Love Affair where he displays his incredible tonal variety - at points you'd swear he was playing tenor and not baritone. Anderson finally goes stratospheric on Fol's
Salome, whilst his desk partner Williams arrives for a preaching outing on the Gospel-drenched
The Shepherd and stays to turn up the heat on his well loved
Tutti for Cootie. At long last Johnny Hodges casts his hypnotic spell on
Freakish Lights before drummer Rufus Jones has an animated, though occasionally tawdry, bash during
Ellington kept up a mighty schedule, of which this single concert (or part of it) forms a useful element. The band seldom slipped lower than great. What a privilege it would have been to have seen them in the flesh.
– Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
The sparse liner notes for this release, covering but one flap of the foldover cardboard container, indicate that this concert was part of Ellington’s last European tour before the tragic early death of his co-composer, arranger, and amanuensis for the past 28 years, Billy Strayhorn. But not knowing for sure at the time that Strayhorn would not pull through, I fail to see the relevance to the actual performance which, as it turns out, was one of the Ellington band’s best.
Duke’s orchestra had, for some time, been known in the business as one that could be inspired and on fire one night, routine and listless the next. It was a risk he was apparently willing to take by hiring 14 high-level improvising musicians and forging them into a band rather than stocking the orchestra with professional session players. Thus one never quite knew what to expect from the Ellington forces. The only time I saw them, in the early 1970s at the legendary Meadowbrook Ballroom, they started out listless, only to come to life after a particularly inspired tenor sax solo by Harold Ashby (a later addition to the band) in the midst of one number. As soon as they hit the next tune, which happened to be
Rockin’ in Rhythm
, the whole orchestra was up and cooking, and they never let up for the rest of the evening. Gonsalves, Williams, Carney, all came to splendid life, raising the temperature of not only their inspiration but the excitement of the audience. It was quite a night.
But in this March 6, 1967, concert the band was “on” from the first note, and you can sense it. Everything here is so tight that you’d think they’d been playing just this program for weeks, honing their ensemble skills to the point where every solo seems to emerge from a compositional web woven just to frame it. In addition, they brushed aside the ubiquitous “Ellington Songbook” that they often trotted out in their American concerts. Except for a 55-second intro featuring Ellington’s theme,
Take the ‘A’ Train
, this was an evening of unusual pieces and new discoveries. Listeners in the know were probably surprised to hear the band play
Johnny Come Lately
, a Strayhorn tune they had originally recorded back in the early 1940s for RCA but didn’t often play thereafter; more surprised to hear a piece by a non-Ellingtonian, French jazzman Raymond Fol’s
; and surprised still further by such relatively unfamiliar works as
Swamp Goo, Knob Hill, Eggo, Freakish Lights, A Chromatic Love Affair
. I have to admit that, although I have roughly 24 CDs by Ellington, I didn’t have most of these tunes and had to look many of them up. The earliest version I could find of
, for instance, came from Newport on July 5, 1958.
Undoubtedly, though, American listeners will be curious about the one name here that doesn’t seem to fit. Raymond Fol (1928-1979) was the younger, piano-playing brother of jazz alto saxist and clarinetist Hubert Fol. Both played and recorded with Django Reinhardt, Raymond less often than Hubert. Raymond also moved easily in bebop circles, regularly accompanying visiting American jazzmen like Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, and Johnny Hodges, the last-named of whom raved about him to Duke. By the 1960s Fol was not only working with Hodges but also with Paul Gonsalves, hence his association with Ellington.
It’s almost mind-boggling to consider, for instance, that trombonist Lawrence Brown, who plays a brief but amazingly creative solo on
Johnny Come Lately
and a more extended one on
, had been with Ellington since the early 1930s; that baritone saxist Harry Carney, whose virtuosity on
A Chromatic Love Affair
has him reaching up into the tenor range, had joined even earlier (and I can attest that he was still playing as brilliantly in 1972); or that trumpeter Cootie Williams, despite a hiatus away from the band in the 1940s, had replaced the brilliant but hopelessly alcoholic growl trumpeter Bubber Miley in 1929. Duke not only had good taste in selecting outstanding musicians, but at times he lucked out by finding once-young talents willing to spent most, if not all, of their careers with him and develop as jazz giants within his organization. Sometimes, of course, the musicians were excellent technicians, they swung, but they weren’t really pace-setters, yet by and large Ellington’s batting average was high. Perhaps his most famous success was plucking tenor saxist Paul Gonsalves out of the Count Basie band, where he was good but not great, then developing him into one of the most brilliant and innovative tenor saxists of the 1950s (and beyond).
One of the most noticeable and crowd-pleasing of Ellington’s soloists was high-note trumpeter Willie “Cat” Anderson, who used a very shallow mouthpiece that allowed him to jump into the stratosphere with impunity. Unlike his counterpart in Stan Kenton’s band, Maynard Ferguson, Anderson’s high-note excursions weren’t always on pitch, but his willingness to take risks made him, for me, a more interesting and exciting jazz improviser. Anderson, quite simply, shot for the moon on every solo, and considering how long he pulled this trapeze act off, his success rate was surprisingly good.
, a piece I wasn’t able to track down the history of prior to this event, is one of those great medium-tempo pieces that made people’s feet move even if they weren’t dancing. Brief solos by Hamilton and (I believe) Herbie Jones interlace what is essentially a calm center to this otherwise high-energy evening. Perhaps they were saving their energy for the 11-and-a-half-minute
La Plus Belle Africaine
, an exceptionally fine piece that starts with Hamilton’s clarinet and Anderson’s trumpet, is essentially a showpiece for John Lamb’s simply exceptional bowed bass, Carney’s baritone, and an extended Hamilton solo. By comparison with a modern classical bassist playing early music, which I found overly heavy and lugubrious, Lamb’s solo is a model of how to consistently lighten the tone throughout the range and play figures even more difficult. I commend this solo to all bass players, jazz or classical.
, it’s an energetic piece that starts with Rufus Jones banging on his tom-toms while Brown plays the melody over counterpoint by Carney and the trumpets. Until the trumpet solo by Jones, the rhythm is delightfully off-kilter and slightly displaced, which adds interest to the piece. This is definitely one of those pieces in which the entire band steps it up a notch; even Anderson’s high-note excursions are rather more on pitch than elsewhere, and tremendously exciting, too. Ellington’s own stride-influenced piano playing is ideal for the mood setting going into
which, like the shuffle-rhythm
Tutti for Cootie
, is built around Williams’s growling trumpet.
I personally feel that too many non-Ellington collectors have an incomplete view of the band, basing much of their opinion on the classic recordings of the early-to-mid 1940s, the great 1956 Newport Jazz Festival and perhaps the
Far East Suite
Second Sacred Concert
. Good as they were, there was much more to Ellington and his musicians than that; and this concert, reproduced in absolutely stunning sound, emphasizes the orchestra’s ability to play real, creative jazz—not in the avant-garde of the 1960s, but close enough to allow listeners to hear the roots of such music. Ellington may have found himself, at long last, consolidating his style and remaining relatively pat while younger musicians were still pushing the envelope, but you couldn’t dismiss everything they played as old-fashioned. It just wasn’t so.
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