Saturday, February 24, 2007

Things we like—Duke Ellington.

Some of these “things we like” posts are more flippant than others.

But what can be said in short about Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. One of the greatest Americans ever. Period. Had the kind of deep, broad, lasting impact on music—particularly American-music-as-art-form—that few have ever had. Yes, a great big-band leader, probably the greatest, but so much more.

Black, Brown and Beige, Afro Eurasian Eclipse, The Carnegie Hall Concerts, The Sacred Music. Duke was our classical music.

Lately my favorite thing of Duke’s has been a rare little trio album from 1961 called Piano in the Foreground, with Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard, longtime members of the Ellington band. Four pure improvisations on the record Piano Improvisation #1-4, along with Billy Strayhorn’s Lotus Blossom and some jewels from the Ellington songbook.

Also not to missed—along similar lines—is the classic Money Jungle, one of my top ten all-time jazz records. Another Ellington trio with giants for “side-men”—Mingus on the bass and Max Roach on drums. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Some other faves: “...and his mother called him Bill” (the Strayhorn tribute, recorded with Swee’ Pea’s death still pretty fresh for most of the band); Live at Newport; Such Sweet Thunder; Duke’s Men: The Small Groups Vol. 1...I could go on and on.

“We love you madly...” was one of Duke’s favorite lines for his audiences. Back atcha, Duke.