Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – February 1964 005
Pages 6 and 7 of a programme for Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra's tour of Britain, 1964. Both pages continue to profile the career of Duke Ellington, with photographs of his bandmembers.
|Catalogue Reference Number||NJA/PRO/8|
|Creator||Jack Higgins, Benny Green, Eric Jelly|
|Title or Caption|
|Event Date||February 1964|
This text has been generated by computer from the image and may contain typographical and/or grammatical errors.
that is unique in the jazz world.
Examples run into hundreds, so perhaps the most practical way of quoting chapter and verse is to refer to the most recent records. A few months ago an album was issued in this country called " The Duke Plays Ellington â, in which Ellington, accompanied by bass and drums, ran through a programme of a dozen originals, one by Billy Strayhorn, the rest all his own work. The last two tracks are called Retrospection and Dancers In Love, and between them the two fragments show both sides of Ellingtonâs personality as a pianist. Retrospection sounds as its title suggests. It wanders dreamily from one tonality to the other as only Ellingtonâs piano playing does. Wisps of melody float away and are replaced by others. It is not so much a jazz performance as the evocation of a mood. But whatever it is, it certainly sounds a long way from the old Fats Waller days.
But then comes Dancers In Love which, after the statement of a jagged opening theme, moves into a rambustious passage of ragtime piano which instantly evokes memories of The Lion himself. Ellington is here revealing his jazz roots, the kind
of inspiration which lies at the heart of all his music, his memories of his own experiences as a jazz soloist. â The Duke Plays Ellington â is a most extraordinary album, sketching in picture after picture, creating one mood almost before the previous one has been established. It is a kind of compendium of all Ellingtonâs arts as pianist and composer, and were it the only Ellington album to be issued in Britain for a long time it would have been hailed as a masterpiece. As it is, it was hardly noticed in the general flood. It was made in 1953 and sounds more contemporary than anything I heard in 1963.
The two sides of Ellingtonâs piano style, the poetic and the stomping, were both well in evidence in the television show he filmed for us last year. The Single Petal Of A Rose was a vintage sample of Ellington pensive, and the several Blues choruses which soon followed in Diminuendo In Blue were another return to the Stride piano tradition. But these two streams which run through his piano-playing are not merely disparate elements. They often fuse, and it is when they do that we get the complete originality of the Ellington piano style. The way he voices his chords
and the way he arranges those chords in sequence, are entirely his own, which brings us to how he relates all this to the fifteen musicians who work for him.
It is no use pretending about this. Ellingtonâs orchestral technique cannot be explained in a few paragraphs. Very possibly it cannot be explained in a few hundred, in which case that definitive book about him will never be written. The problem to be surmounted is the same one that confronts anybody who wants to write about jazz. Jazz is a sound and a way of producing a sound. Words cannot describe it. If they could, the sound would not be worth making. The best expression of this difficulty was made by the pianist Andre Previn who. being questioned on the subject of Duke Ellington, made this reply : â Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand fiddles and a thousand brass and make a dramatic gesture, and every studio arranger can nod his head and say, â Oh, yes, thatâs done like this â. But Duke merely lifts his finger, three horns make a sound, and I donât know what it is.â
If Andre Previn doesnât know what it is, my own chances of working it out must be very remote. But the very mystery of the sound made by those three horns Previn referred to gives us a clue as to what Ellington is doing. He uses the orchestra as his own instrumental keyboard. Instead of keys there are men, and as Ellington acquaints himself with every nuance of every man's style, he is able, not merely to voice this chord or that chord, but to voice it in terms of the individual styles of the men playing the notes. To put it another way, Ellington can get as many different effects out of the chord of C Major as there are permutations of three that are to be obtained from his fifteen musicians. If he gives Harry Carney the root, sticks Johnny Hodges in the middle and places Jimmy Hamilton on top, that is one effect. But if, in distributing the component parts of that same chord he places Paul Gonsalves in the root, Lawrence Brown above him. with Hodges over them, the effect is quite different.
If one can grasp this method, then it soon becomes clear that some kind of miracle is being enacted every time Ellington writes a fresh score. And two other things become apparent, too. First, that a constant personnel is vital to Ellington, and second, that there is no possible way in which the Ellington tradition can be handed on. To take the first point first, if there were a constant procession of musicians trooping through the Elling-
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