Friday, April 29, 2016

And the King of All, Sir Duke

It's time to start the weekend off in style, with a birthday tribute to someone without whom the landscape of culture and music as we know it would simply not be even remotely the same.
April 29th is well-known as the birthday of Willie Nelson -- an absolute Maestro of the music of our times without peer -- but that isn't who I'm talking about today. I have tributed ol' Willie Hugh before on here and he'll get his day again on this page, there is no doubt. 
But today is about someone whose contributions to the continuum are so monumental, without him there might not have ever even been a Willie Nelson. That sounds like an exaggeration, but when it comes to Duke Ellington, there isn't any such thing as hyperbole.
He was born at the end of the 19th century and would, before too long, begin shaping the sonic profile of the 20th and beyond. If I had to cite one figure, one central person that I'd put up there as the alpha and omega guy of the music of our lifetimes, it would have to be this man. You could make the argument that before he took Jazz and orchestrated it into all the different manifestations of American music it informed, there was no American music to speak of.
We were recently, and still are, mourning the untimely death of Prince, and it serves well to quote Miles Davis, who often referred to the mercurial Minnesotan as "the Duke Ellington of Rock". Very telling, as coming from someone like Miles -- himself inarguably one of the most formative musicians of all times -- there could really be no higher compliment to be paid an artist.
When Duke passed in 1974 --  after a lifetime altering the musical DNA of Planet Earth several times over -- Miles dedicated his then-new record, Get Up With It, to him. A year later, Stevie Wonder wrote a song canonizing him, and rightfully so. It's no stretch to say that the music of our world was in one, undeveloped, germinal state when Duke showed up, and by the time he departed things were in a completely different place, almost unrecognizable from where they had been.
Everything that could possibly have been written about Duke Ellington and his signature, writ large over the music and culture of our time, has been said, so anything I come up with is just gonna be redundant and obvious. Best to just get to the share and get out of the way, am I right?
This web channel in Norway has recently been streaming rebroadcasts of vintage Jazz performances from Norwegian TV of the last 50 years, and oh my brothers and sisters I am collecting them all, make no mistake. This one comes from precisely that series, and showcases 40 minutes of Duke and his Orchestra in full flight at the end of 1969. Look out for alto titan Johnny Hodges and trumpet deity Cootie Williams getting in on the swing of things.
Duke Ellington & his Orchestra
Bergenshallen
Bergen, Norway
11.3.1969

01 Take The "A" Train  
02 Cotton Tail  
03 Up Jump  
04 La Plus Belle Africaine  
05 Come Off the Veldt  
06 El Gato  
07 Don't Get Around Much Anymore  
08 Solitude  
09 It Don't Mean a Thing  
10 Be Cool and Groovy for Me
11 Ocht O'Clock Rock  

Total time: 40:07

Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Mercer Ellington, Harold "Money" Johnson - trumpets
Lawrence Brown - trombone
Chuck Connors - bass trombone
Russell Procope - clarinet & alto saxophone
Norris Turney - flute, clarinet. alto & tenor saxophones
Johnny Hodges - alto saxophone
Harold Ashby - tenor saxophone & clarinet
Paul Gonsalves - tenor saxophone
Harry Carney - clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor & baritone saxophones
Wild Bill Davis - organ
Victor Gaskin- bass
Rufus Jones - drums
Tony Watkins - vocals
Duke Ellington - piano

flv file of a 2016 NRK webcast of a concert shot in B&W for Norwegian TV in 1969
695 MB here
That'll do it for April's foolishness... I will return in May with a bunch more Twizzlers for your tweeters and wizardry for your woofers. In the meantime, I highly recommend pulling down this slice of unreleased Ellingtonia -- there isn't much out there still hiding when you're talking about a figure this monumental -- and Take the "A" Train straight into your weekend! And of course, long live Duke Ellington... born this day 117 years ago and in no discernible danger of disappearing.--J.
4.29.1899 - 5.24.1974

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