Friday, April 29, 2011

Duke's 112th Birthday: The Sound Is Still Going Somewhere

112 years after his birth, and now physically gone from the face of the earth for 37 years, he is still hard to define. He avoided being categorized intentionally. "Never get caught up in categories,” he told Nat Hentoff. “It’s individuals who make the difference." So his music remained inspiring generations of musicians from different categories and backgrounds and ordinary people from all around the world. He led that "A" train the way like nobody can going to stop it, even in his death bed in Columbia-Presbyterian hospital in New York. And nobody could! Now it has became more the matter of understanding life, art, and beauty than understanding jazz itself. Again it was him who mentioned "I don’t want people listening to how my music is made. I want them to open themselves as they hear it."

Gramophone Record Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music (1936) praised Ellington’s "incomparable powers of rhapsodic invention, instinct for tonal nuance, and orchestral ingenuities equal to the most brilliant flights of Rimsky-Korsakov’s or Richard Strauss’ imagination. Ellington’s compositions are uniquely significant for their poly-timbres, their complex textures, the spontaneous and rhapsodic flow of the melodies, the homogeneity of style, and—above all—for their sensitive and poignant revelation of pure feeling in tone." But it doesn’t seem enough to explain the reasons for endless joy while one is listening to him, and endless influence on music when he is heard in countless number of sounds and recordings and styles which emerged after him. Clark Terry, cleverly, pointed that "He wants life and music to be always in a state of becoming. He doesn’t even like definitive song endings to a piece. He’d often ask us to come up with the ideas for closings, but when he’d settled on one of them, he’d keep fooling with it. He always likes to make the end of a song sound as if it’s still going somewhere."

Today, the song is still going somewhere. It’s true that every great musician is always playing himself, or his inner feelings, but Duke was playing Life, as reflected in his gentle, restless soul.

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I choose this tune because I love to remember the one who "loved us all madly," in one of his most intimate moods. All alone, singing for us and playing a lullaby-like melody on celeste: Moon Maiden (from 1969, August 29th, NYC)