The Duke

Some days ago I mentioned Duke Ellington’s “The great Paris concert” with bonus tracks that I had finally tracked down. The bonus tracks, which were all I’d heard earlier, were even better than I remembered–incredible solos such as Johnny Hodges on “Things ain’t what they used to be”, Cootie Williams on “Echoes of Harlem”, and others, coupled with perfect big-band arrangements–but the actual album was mind-blowingly good. This is not an artist in the twilight of his career—he is at the peak of his powers (as his other 1960s albums attest).

It is interesting to contrast Duke Ellington and his contemporary Louis Armstrong. These are the two men the most responsible for jazz as we know it today. But while Louis remained solidly rooted in the Dixieland/Swing era, loved and respected till the end but not blazing any new trails after the 1930s, the Duke kept re-inventing himself every few years. Tunes like “Cotton Tail” foretold bebop before it happened. As his tunes acquired lyrics, he became the first significant non-Broadway contributor to the “Great American Songbook”. In the 1950s, when he seemed to the general public have become irrelevant, he grabbed the world’s attention with the blazing “Diminuendo and Crescendo in blue” at Newport. In the 1960s, he recorded a traditional-sounding album with Louis Armstrong, avant-garde albums with Charles Mingus and Max Roach and with John Coltrane, and much else—including this Paris concert album.

OK, that was somewhat incoherent. Perhaps I’ll blog in the mornings on weekends.

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