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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Jack Ashby

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Duke Ellington

‘Jazz Caravan’

RCA Bluebird

090266 39972 7



Featuring various Duke Ellington Orchestras between 1927 & 1973.


Take the ‘A’ Train 1966


Dusk 1940


Creole Love Call 1927


Me and You 1940


The Mooche 1928


Transblucency 1946


Shout ‘Em Aunt Tillie 1930


Tonk 1946


Creole Rhapsody Part 1 - 1931


Caravan 1952


Creole Rhapsody Part 2 - 1931


Depk 1966


Rude Interlude 1933


The Majesty of God 1973


Rumpus In Richmond 1940


Medley:- East St. Louis Toodle-O, Lot o’ Fingers, Black & Tan Fantasy 1932


Concerto for Cootie 1940

With the wealth of recorded Ellington material available it is inevitable that compilations such as this will be issued on a regular basis. Here we have a random selection covering nearly fifty years. The earlier tracks made at a time when the band was resident at the Cotton Club in Harlem are some of Ellington’s best. But his most popular tunes - now established jazz standards, such as ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’ and ‘Caravan,’ come from a later period. Also, now in the public domain they crop up everywhere – no more so than as ‘muzak.’ Sadly, many people know the tunes but have no idea they were composed by Ellington or in collaboration with others. Many of his successes began life as ‘head arrangements’ and as a bandleader he made a gigantic contribution to American popular music of the twentieth century.

Tracks 2,3,4& 17 show the influence Armstrong and other pioneers of jazz had on Ellington’s composition and arrangements - the same applies to the musicians he employed. On ‘Creole Love Call’ Bubber Miley’s solo shows how much he was influenced by Joe ‘King’ Oliver and Johnny Hodges’ work on ‘The Mooche’ brings out the Bechet influence – a man he greatly admired and by whom he was at one time taught. The ‘Medley’ is a synopsis of how elevated Ellington and his sidemen were whether it be Cootie Williams’ earthy growlin’ trumpet solo on ‘East St. Louis..’ or the leader’s virtuoso performance on ‘Lot o’ Fingers.’ As for ‘Black and Tan’ it became one of Ellington’s legendary masterpieces both in arrangement and performance. ‘Tonk’ is a lively and at times humourous duet written and performed by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

So, it is not surprising that many of his sidemen stayed with Ellington for such long periods – his scores were specially written around their particular styles and capabilities. By the time the later tracks were made several of the ‘old faces’ were still in situ but styles of playing had changed, often significantly, to augment Duke’s progressive writing and arranging. Other arrangers were also providing material for the band none more successfully than Billy Strayhorn. ‘Rumpus in Richmond’ shows a distinct change in the music – to a typical swing band style. The saxophone section work is more harmonic, Bigard’s tone is not so ‘woody’ and Lawrence Brown sails through his solo. Overall there are more dynamics in evidence. ‘Transbluency’ an Ellington/ Lawrence Brown original featuring Kay Davis is another example of musical diversification. Other vocalists on this disc are Adelaide Hall, Louis Bacon and Ivie Anderson.

The ‘Majesty of God’ is taken from Duke’s Third Sacred Concert and according to Loren Schoenberg ‘goes beyond the limitations of liturgical genre.’ However I feel this one track is insufficient to get any idea of the complexity of Ellington’s ‘sacred music.’ The 1952 version of ‘Caravan’ features Juan Tizol – trombone, Jimmy Hamilton – clarinet and a violin solo by the inimitable Ray Nance. ‘Depk’ taken from Ellington’s ‘Far East Suite’ and from a period when Ellington also composed his classic suite ‘Such Sweet Thunder.’ This particular orchestra was in my opinion one of his greatest.

Jack Ashby


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