In the 1940’s, from 1943 to 1948, Duke Ellington & His Orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall in NYC no less than on seven different occasions. On each of these occasions newly written extended works were played. In 1943 there were two concerts, one on Jan 23 where Black Brown And Beige was played in its entirety and one on Nov 11 which featured New World A-Comin’.
The 1944 performance included Blutopia and Perfume Suite. Then again, in 1946, there were two concerts, one on Jan 4, where Duke presented A Tonal Group and one on Nov. 23 presenting Deep South Suite.
For the 1947 performance in Dec 26-27, Ellington had been commissioned to write his Liberian Suite, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Liberian republic in Africa. There was one more concert at Carnegie Hall before the end of the decade, in Nov. 1948, which included performances of Symphomaniac and The Tattooed Bride. Billy Strayhorn contributed to most of these works, exceptions being New World A-Comin’ and The Tattooed Bride.
Deep South Suite is highlighting Ellington’s interpretation of the racial situation in the South in the forties and earlier, and below you’ll find a presentation of the contents of the suite by Leonard Feather for the subsequent V-Disc issue
Leonard Feather introduces Deep South Suite
The complete suite is available for downloading and listening in the Goodies Room.
Although these extended works, presented in the mid-forties, are largely orchestral works with comparatively little ad-libbing from the soloists, the main solo-voices are of course heard; Lawrence Brown and Jimmy Hamilton in the opening part, Magnolias Dripping With Molasses, Harold Baker in Hearsay and Duke himself in Nobody Was Looking. The concluding number, Happy-Go-Lucky Local, was the only one surviving for any length of time in the band’s repertoire. The reason for this could be that it is easy for the listener to visualize a freight train in the South because of its rhythmics and also of Cat Anderson’s screeching train brakes. In any event it became a hit in the fifties, but under a different name, Night Train by Jimmy Forrest. There are only two performances of Deep South Suite surviving, the present from Carnegie Hall 23 Nov. 1946 and one from Chicago’s Civic Opera House a fortnight ealier ( 10 Nov.). It was never commercially recorded in a studio.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, there were several musicians and composers who tried to unite the elements of jazz and classical music into “symphonic jazz” and foremost of these was Paul Whiteman, whom from time to other employed well known jazz musicians in his large orchestra. In the late forties and beginning of the fifties, Stan Kenton seems to have had the same ambitions, but with little success. One could probably include works like Deep South Suite, A Tonal Group, New World A-Comin‘ and The Tattooed Bride in this cathegory – Symphonic Jazz- and in that case, the mentioned works, although great compositions, would easily be overshadowed by Ellington’s Black, Brown And Beige, which will soon celebrate its 75th anniversary. We plan to come back about this.
At the 2014 Ellington Conference in Amsterdam in 2014, David Schiff talked about Deep South Suite. The title of his presentation was “Going South: Representation in Deep South Suite”. It was reprinted in the 2014 autumn issue of Blue Light, which is available to DESS members in the Blue Light section of the Ellington Archive. The four-page article can also be read here.