Chords & Notes

Duke Ellington:

New Orleans Suite

Atlantic Jazz, CD, Rs. 525

DUKE ELLINGTON (1899-1974), the greatest jazz composer ever, came to jazz around 1920 as a novice, knowing much less about it than such contemporaries as Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, who had the advantage of being steeped in it by accident of being born in the same city as the new art form, New Orleans.

Thus, although the Duke helped to develop a more sophisticated style of jazz, he never forgot the debt the music owed to New Orleans. His New Orleans Suite, one of several longer orchestral works he wrote after maturing musically, is thus a tribute every jazz musician of every generation can readily identify with.

Of the eight pieces on this album, the cream of the cream are probably the opening number, "Blues for New Orleans", the affectionate "Portrait of Louis Armstrong", and two moving pieces, "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" and "Portrait of Mahalia Jackson".

The first piece is dominated by the intense alto saxophone of Johnny Hodges and the electric organ of Wild Bill Davis.

The tribute to Armstrong has the talented Cootie Williams on trumpet manfully recreating the power and penetrating high-register playing of Satchmo, while the one to Jackson is a pensive, though not slow-paced, evocation, depending strongly on Norris Turney's flute, of a giant of gospel singing whom Ellington greatly admired. "Thanks for the Beautiful..." draws entirely on Ellington's piano and Paul Gonsalves's tenor saxophone to recreate the magic soil of the Mississippi delta from which first the blues and later jazz sprang.

1969 All-Star White House

Tribute to Duke Ellington

Virgin Records, CD, Rs. 400

BENNY GOODMAN, whose clarinet and big band were the spearhead with which real jazz broke the race barrier and wowed white audiences in the 1930s, went to the White House on April 29, 1969, expecting only a good time. He never thought his instrument, which no one told him to take along, would have enabled him to "sing" for his supper, as many other musicians present on the occasion did.

The occasion was Duke Ellington's 70th birthday, at which he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Richard Nixon. Famous musicians of whom some had played alongside Ellington and all knew his music well gave a concert in his honour: trumpeters Clark Terry and Bill Berry, trombonists Urbie Green and J.J. Johnson, Paul Desmond on alto saxophone and Gerry Mulligan on baritone saxophone, Hank Jones (piano), Jim Hall (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums), with singers Mary Mayo and Joe Williams. Other celebrated pianists — Earl Hines, Dave Brubeck, Billy Taylor — took over from Jones on some pieces.

All were in top form, as the solos on this 75-minute feast of music, comprising 28 numbers, shows. Every one of the 10 instrumentalists on the band as well as the guest pianists gets ample opportunity to show his or her virtuosity and love of the Ellington canon.

The concert began with Ellington's theme "Take the `A' Train" and ended with his improvising and playing a surprise solo tribute to the hostess, "Pat".

A marvellous distillation of Ellington's music by his peers.