Tuesday, October 23, 2012

10 Songs For Duke

drawing by Naiel Ibarolla

"The worst thing about Duke Ellington's death," lamented Whitney Balliett "was that he, of all people, turned out to be mortal." Now it may sounds a cliche of I state that his music, forty years after his death, continues to live. No, that's somehow too obvious and not so dukish.

Another way of proving that the "profound, ageless, ongoing joyousness and originality of his music" doesn't seem to be retired is listening to the countless number of tribute albums and songs, recreations of his work, and tracing the influence he left on people who came after him and also his contemporaries. (He even awed musicians before him too - listen to what Willie The Lion Smith says, as my fifth choice.)

For that purpose, let's start with a list of ten tribute songs to this "brilliant eccentric," Duke Ellington. The list can expand in every imaginable direction and I hope some of you dear readers name your favorite "for Duke" songs at the end of this post.

Duke loved telling stories, so let's have one for the end. When Ben Webster (one of the guests of this tribute playlist) - who was playing with Teddy Wilson and dreaming to be a part of Duke Ellington Orchestra - received a message from Duke to go and see him, he felt twenty years younger: "I was drunk at the time, but the news sobered me up in a second. I went to see Ellington in the dressing room of the theatre he was playing at the time. He said, ‘Why don’t you come to the rehearsal tomorrow morning?’ Then I realised I had to tell Teddy Wilson that I was leaving him. To be able to do that, I had to get drunk all over again."

This anecdote tells something about Duke's music that can make you emotionally drunk, and then few minutes later, leave you totally sober. This is the feeling evident in the homages I've gathered here: they all alter between ecstasy and calculated movements. Or both are the same? 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why Concerto for Cootie is a Masterpiece

André Hodeir here:

The Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded Concerto for Cootie, on March 15, 1940. It was especially written for his trumpet player, Cootie Williams. Later, Bob Russell wrote lyrics for the instrumental piece, and in 14 August 1943 Ellington did record the vocal version, featuring Al Hibbler as the singer, and apparently "it was a number one hit R&B chart for eight non-consecutive weeks and number six on the pop chart." This time the title of the song changed to Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me this and was recorded many times after that. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Dinah Washington were among the people who sang in what was originally a concerto for trumpet wizard and master of mute plunger, Cootie Williams.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ad-Lib#2: Beware of Baker and Heywood

Beware of Mr. Baker is the title of a new documentary, and exceptionally a good one, about legendary drummer Ginger Baker which is going to be screened at this year's London Film Festival.

The programme booklet of the 56th London Film Festival insists in calling Baker "the world’s greatest drummer" which he obviously is not, as you will see in this accurate portrait of his musical (and geographical) journeys, ambitions and passions, how he is cut by Art Blakey in one of so many drum battles Baker set with the giants he praised. Even in the only scenes in the film that he is not bragging, or insulting people (including himself) he drops a few tears about his only "true friends" and "idols", Phil Seamen, Max Roach, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones. That's exactly the moment one begin to understand the reason for Mr. Baker's contempt for many of his ex-colleagues, among them, unjustly, Jack Bruce of the Cream. Baker talks about Time all the time. That's what he feels as what many rock musicians lack and why they cannot keep up with him and his complex rhythmic fireworks. He wants to be acknowledged in the idiom of jazz, and not became the context of his stardom, rock music.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Big Band Business Down in Florida

Left to right: Buddy DeFranco, Sammy Kaye, Duke Ellington, Larry Elgart, Jackie Gleason, Les Elgart, Count Basie, Freddy Martin, Guy Lombardo, Phil Napoleon. Florida (probably Miami)