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Premiered by Ellington part 3

Premiered by Ellington part 3

 In the third article in the series about the album Premiered by Ellington, we will take a closer look at three more songs.

 #3: I Can’t Give You Anything But Love is composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It was first played by Ellington from a simple lead sheet in 1928, and later that year it appeared in the Broadway revue Blackbirds of 1928. Ellington recorded the song several times from 1928 and on, and it stayed in the repertoire till the end of his career. Here I will focus on the second recording from November 10 1928, The Blackbird Medley from 1933, and of cause the 1953 version.

The song is written in 32 bar ABAC form. The 1928 version has 4 choruses and a 4 bar intro. It all starts with an introduction very similar to Black Beauty, recorded 7 months earlier. On the first chorus, trumpeter Arthur Whetsel is featured along with the sax section. Both plays fine variations on the song. On the 2nd chorus, Irving Mills vocal is in the spotlight, with Freddie Jenkins doing an improvised obbligato on muted trumpet. The 3rd chorus is split between Tricky Sam Nanton playing the melody and Baby Cox’s scat singing. The last chorus features Johnny Hodges with Barney Bigard ad libbing on top, and a simple repeated accompaniment from the rest of the horns. With the exception of a slightly shaky ending, this is a good and swinging version of the song.

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love 10 Nov.1928 (take -4)

Blackbird Medley from 1933 takes up two sides of a 10″ record, and contains 6 songs total. The first song is I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. Only one chorus is played here plus a half at the end of the medley. The tempo is much slower than the 1928 version, and the harmonies are more advanced. The trumpet soloist, Arthur Whetsel, plays the melody accompanied by sustained chords. The idea of chords in 3 breat groupings that were used on the 1930 version of My Old Flame is also used here. On the B section the trombones takes over the melody, and after that Whetsel is back.

Black Medley part 1 17 Feb 1933

Black Medley part 2 17 Feb 1933

Now we take a look at the 1953 version. It consist of two choruses and a 4 bar intro, and features Russel Procope on clarinet, Ray Nance on trumpet and Quentin Jackson on trombone. These guys was often Ellington’s choice when an imitation of the traditional dixieland line up was needed.

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (0:00) A1 (0:10) B (0:31) A2 (0:53) C (1:14)
Clarinet, Piano, Bass Solo: Procope (clarinet.)

Sustained chords

Melody: Trombone’s

Obbligato: Procope

Melody: Procope and Carney (clarinet + bass cl.)

Sustained chords

Sim.

Solo: Hamilton (last two bars)

The cheerful interpretation from 1928 has now completely disappeared in favor of a more melancholic and pensive style, typical of the Capitol period, and the tempo is even slower than the 1933 version. Procope’s clarinet is in the spotlight right from the start. Notice the intro with only clarinet, piano and bass. On A1 he plays the melody accompanied by mysterious sounding chords played by the trumpet section. On B the trombones takes over, very similar to the 1933 version. The way the chords moves around chromatically makes it sounds like they are about to leave tonality. After that Procope and Harry Carney (bass clarinet) plays the melody in octaves in legit style, rhythmically very identical to Whetsel in 1933.

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love 1953, 2nd chorus

A1 (1:36) B (1:58) A2 (2:20) C (2:41)
Solo: Jackson (plunger)

Acc: Clarinets and tenor

Sim. Solo: Nance

Acc: Clarinets and tenor

Dixieland ending

Trombones plays the melody. Procope & Jackson ad lib.

 The 2nd chorus consist of two solo’s and a dixieland ending. Jackson get’s the longest solo (16 bars.) The first 4 measures he plays the melody completely straight, and then he begins to vary it both rhythmically and melodically. He uses the plunger to good effect. Nance only gets 8 bars and his solo is completely improvised. They are both accompanied, very interestingly, by a trio consisting of clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor sax. The trio plays 3-part harmony in open position with Hamilton on top, Paul Gonsalves in the middle and Carney on the bottom. It is quite impressive how well Gonsalves manages to blend with the clarinets. On C the remaining two trombone’s plays the melody in the background in legit style, with Procope and Jackson (open horn this time) ad-libbing in typical dixieland style.

#4: Liza is composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn. Ellington and the band appeared on stage in Florenz Ziegfeld’s musical Show Girl in 1929, and Liza was the shows biggest hit. Despite that, the song doesn’t appear in Ellington’s discography until 1939 in a live recording as part of a medley. The 1953 recording is the only studio version. A few live recordings from 1953-54 has also survived, but after that it wasn’t captured on tape again.

Most of the songs on Premiered by Ellington were recorded immediately after their release in film, musicals or the like, so why didn’t they record Liza? In a 1935 interview, Ellington showed dislike for Gershwin new jazz opera Porgy and Bess, and this has led to the conclusion that he didn’t like Gershwins music in general. If that is true, it is certainly not audible in the 1953-54 recordings that i have heard. At least half of the 8 tunes on Premiered by Ellington was arranged by Strayhorn, but my guess is that Liza was arranged by Ellington.

Liza 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (0:00) A1 (0:11) A2 (0:22) B (0:33) A3 (0:44)
Piano & bass duet Inst. 1(4 bars)

Inst. 2(4 bars)

Inst. 1(4)

Solo: Terry (4)

Solo: Gonsalves

+ background

Inst. 1(4)

Solo: Terry (4)

Liza is also in 32 bar AABA form. After the 8 bar dialog between Ellington and bassist Wendell Marshall, the tune is stated by two different types of instrument combinations. I have named them Inst.1 and 2. Inst.1 is, from what I can hear, the saxes with Ray Nance’s plunger trumpet on top. Inst. 2 is a 4 part tutti ensemble. Both Ellington and Strayhorn wrote 4 part harmony on one staff, and then the copyist distributed the notes to the individual instruments according to a specific formula. A technique that was used a lot.

The 2nd chorus is a trombone solo by Britt Woodman accompanied by the rhythm section with occasional backgrounds by the three lowest saxes. The 3rd chorus is Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet and Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax playing a bebop line in octaves. It’s one of the highlights in the arrangement, so much that they actually played it twice at a concert recorded just 3 weeks later! A similar line was also part of the arrangement of Perdido on the Ellington Uptown album.

Liza 1953, 4th chorus

A1 (2:22) A2 (2:33) B (2:44) A3 (2:55)
Solo: Carney (4) + ensemble shout.

Solo: Ellington (4)

Sim. Solo: Henderson Hamilton + Gonsalves in octaves.

Ensemble shout

As you can see above, the arranger often divides the 8 bar sections into two, thereby creating a call and response effect. Sometimes between two instrument combinations, sometimes between the band and a soloist, and also between two soloists. On B we get a rare solo from Rick Henderson. He was one of the be-bop inspired musicians that Ellington hired in the beginning of the 50s. He only stayed a couple of years and didn’t play many solos with the band. On A3 Hamilton and Gonsalves are back playing in octaves accompanied by a shouting ensemble.

Liza 1953 Capitol

#5: Flamingo is written by Ted Grouya with lyrics by Edmund Anderson, and first recorded by the Ellington band in December 1940. They recorded the tune again several times the following year, most notably for Standard Radio Transcription in September, and later that year, a film version for Soundies was made. In all instances the singer was Herb Jeffries. Flamingo was a regular part of the repertoire well into the 50s, and even shows up in the discography as late as 1972. Here I will focus on the 1940 version and compare it to 1953, both by the way, arranged by Billy Strayhorn.

First we take a look at the the 1940 version. Like most of the songs discussed here, Flamingo is also in AABA form, but Strayhorn expanded the last A to 14 bars. Here is an overview of the first chorus.

Flamingo 1940, 1st chorus

Intro(8 bars) (0:00) A1(8) (0:22) A2(8) (0:40) B(8) (0:58) A3(14) (1:16)
Rubato, Tutti.

Trb solo: Tizol

Vocal: Jeffries

Brass: off beat staccato chords.

Saxes: sustained chords

Piano: Strayhorn

Key: Db major

Sim.

 

 

 

 

 

Saxes more active.

Sustained brass chords

 

Sim. to previous A’s

Modulation.

It all starts with Tizol playing the first three notes of the song, answered by a trumpet as an echo. After that, the whole band enters very dramatically and then brings it down to make room for Jeffries vocal. Notice, just before the vocal enters, the brass plays a few staccato chords. This is the basic idea for the brass section the whole first chorus. By introducing this idea before the chorus starts, Strayhorn creates a smooth and coherent transition into A1.

The whole song is basically two times AABA with an intro. But the transition that Strayhorn has created between the two is the work of genius. From bar 7 in A3 (1:31) Jeffries sings, technically speaking, a downward sequence of major and minor thirds with a minor seconds in between. It is no coincidence that these are the intervals that Strayhorn has chosen, because they are very prominent in the song, and that is one of the reasons why it works so well. At the same time, the arrangement is in the process of modulating to another key. It’s a slow modulation starting in Db major, going through A major and finally ending in Ab major at the start of the second chorus (1:50).

Flamingo 1940, 2nd chorus

A1(8 bars) (1:48) A2(8) (2:06) B(8) (2:24) A3(14) (2:43) Ending(2) (3:14)
Bar two and three repeated by different sections.

Trb solo: Brown

Modulation continues.

Key: Ab

Brown cont.

Key: F

Modulation continues.

Alto solo: Hodges

Key: D (or F)

Modulation continues.

Vocal: Jeffries

Key: Db

Trombones

Piano: Strayhorn

Key: Db

At this point, one would expect the new key to be fixed. But Strayhorn continues to modulate. On A2 we are suddenly in F major, and shortly before the B section we are in D major. But when we get to B, we are suddenly in F major. This leads me to another point. The song itself points in many directions tonally right from the start. At the beginning (1st chorus) it is clearly in Db major, but already in measure 3 it sounds more like Db minor. On the B section it passes E major and then back to Db major (and minor) on A3. When Hodges begins his solo on B (in the 2nd chorus) we are in D major, but it sounds like F major because the song itself modulates at this point, and that was the key we were in on A2. When it modulates back to Db major on A3 where Jeffries are back on the vocal. So all the way from the 7th bar of the first A3 (1:29) until Jeffries re-enters on the second A3 (2:43), Strayhorn creates a constant flowing tonality. This is just one aspect of the arrangement that makes it so special.

The attentive reader may have noticed that Strayhorn consistently modulates in minor thirds in the second chorus. According to Walter van de Leur’s book Something To Live For, it was something he often did. I like to call this technique “the circle of minor thirds,” and he probably got this idea through studying modern classical music.

Another thing worth pointing out, is that the shape of the song, like the tonal center, is also blurred at one point. In the first chorus the saxophones clearly signal the transition from one section to the next. But the transition from A3 to A1 is different, because A3 has no clear end. The 6 extra bars that Strayhorn has added is one part of the explanation. Another is the fact that Jeffries sings “fla-min-go” on A1. But instead of singing another chorus, he sings it as an ending. Then the muted trumpets continues the melody answered by two trombone, and after that Lawrence Browns solo starts. On the 2nd bar of A2 Jeffries sings “fla-min-go” again.

Flamingo Victor 1940

The 1953 version is a very attractive one. Quite different in many ways, but there is also many similarities if we look a little closer. The main difference is, that it’s an instrumental version. The tempo is also slower and it has that melancholy, reflective sound, typical for the Capitol era.

Flamingo 1953, 1st chorus

Intro(2 bars) (0:00) A1(8) (0:05) A2(8) (0:26) B(8) (0:47) A3(14) (1:09)
Orchestra Pno. solo: Ellington

Sustained chords accompaniment.

Clarinet trio.

Key: F major

Sim. Sim. Solo: Gonsalves

Modulation

In the first chorus, Ellington has taken the lead role that belonged to Jeffries. Here accompanied by sustained chords from the orchestra. A clarinet trio is heard now and then. A3 is also expanded to 14 bars and contains a slow modulation, but it’s not the same. The arranger here modulates up a forth instead of a fifth.

Flamingo 1953, 2nd chorus

A1(8 bars) (1:47) A2(8) (2:08) B(8) (2:31) A3(11) (2:53) Ending (3:24)
Solo: Nance (viol.)

Sustained chords

Key: Bb

Sim. Melody: low ensemble.

obbligato: Nance

Key: A (or C)

Solo: Gonsalves

Key: Ab

Solo pno: Ellington

Key: F

Then Ray Nance plays a beautiful violin solo based on the song with his typical dry sound. I sometimes wonder if he uses a mute to help getting’ this special sound? On B we have a very unique sounding low tutti ensemble. The key is now A major, but sounds like C for the same reason previously explained, and then Gonsalves are back on A3. It all ends with a mysterious piano solo by Ellington.

Author: Rasmus Henriksen

Premiered by Ellington part 2

The 2nd article about the little known Duke Ellington album “Premiered by Ellington,” and the following two, will focus on the music itself. Part 1, written by Ulf Lundin, is an introduction to the Capitol period in general. If you haven’t read it, it is available here: https://ellington.se/2023/01/14/premiered-by-ellington-part-1/

Premiered by Ellington consist of 8 songs, none of them written by Ellington or his associates. Instead we get new arrangements of familiar pop songs that were all introduced to the public by Ellington. It’s quite an impressive collection of tunes that is still well known today.

The following is an attempt to analyse the tracks one by one and compare them to previously recorded versions by Ellington. I do not have access to the original scores, so all is done by ear. To make it easier to follow, I have made charts that shows the overall form of the arrangements. It’s not possible, of cause, to put an Ellington recording into a simple chart, but they serve the purpose of giving you, the reader and listener, a general overview of the recording.

The music has been embedded into the articles for easy access, but is also available as playlists on YouTube and Deezer. The album itself has never been reissued on CD in it’s original form, but is available on the streaming services. Be aware that this version has the songs in the same order as the french pressing of the LP. I have decided to follow the original US release in this article. Happy listening.

#1: My Old Flame is composed by Arthur Johnston with lyrics by Sam Coslow, and was first performed by Mae West in the film Belle of the Nineties from 1934. Apart from being the main actress, she also wrote the original story that the film was based on. According to Fred Glueckstein’s article in the DESS Bulletin, it was also West who insisted on having the Ellington orchestra accompany her, instead of a white studio orchestra with colored actors faking on the screen.

In February and March that year, the band was in Los Angeles to record the music. On the same occasion, they also recorded music for Murder at the Vanities, which I will return to later. In May they were in LA again for more film recordings. On that occasion, a recording for RCA-Victor was also made, this time sung by Ivie Anderson.

Comparing the versions from 1934 with the 1953 recording, the first thing you notice is how much Ellington has developed in those 19 years! It is by no means just a simple remake of the song, but rather a completely new and much more modern interpretation. The changes that jazz went through in those years are clearly audible, both in the orchestra’s playing style and in the arrangement itself. The same can be said about all the other songs on the record, although there are also many similarities as we will discover along the way.

My Old Flame is a standard 32 bar AABA song. The Mae West version has a very simple two bar piano introduction, and then she sings one chorus, with Barney Bigard on clarinet and Lawrence Brown on trombone, either ad-libbing behind her or doubling the melody. As an ending, the orchestra plays the A section again, this time in 3/4 time and at a faster tempo.

Ivie Anderson’s version of the song is much more subtle. The introduction is based on the ending from the Mae West version, but here adapted to work in 4/4 time. After that, Ellington plays a short piano transition, and then Ivie Anderson enters. This time the ad-libbing is done by Lawrence Brown alone. Notice also that the saxes doubles the melody, while at the same time providing an interesting countermelody now and then.

The first two A sections in the 2nd chorus (1:46) is a duet between Cootie Williams on trumpet and Johnny Hodges on alto sax. On the B section and the last A the saxes plays the melody in unison accompanied by the brass. Basically this version is just the AABA form played twice with an intro on top.

The 1953 version is not as straight ahead. Here is an overview of the first chorus. The arrangement is, according to Walter van de Leur’s book: Something To Live For, written by Billy Strayhorn.

My Old Flame 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (5 bars) (0:00) A1(0:16) A2 (0:42) B (1:09) A3 (1:35)
Duet between Hamilton and Carney Solo: Gonsalves

Sustained chords background.

Key: Bb major

Sim.

 

Sim.

Saxes plays countermelody

 

Tutti, Hamilton ad-lib (4 bars)

Gonsalves returns (last 4)

The introduction, much more harmonically advanced than in the previous versions, is a duet between Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet and Harry Carney on baritone sax, accompanied by the orchestra. Then tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves enters with the melody, phrasing much more freely than the singers did. The band supports him with sustained chords. Such a background could easily get boring. What makes it work in this situation, is first of all Strayhorns unique harmonic language! These mysterious sounding chords that instantly grab your attention and make you want to listen more. But also listen how he varies the instrumentation, adds a few rests at unexpected moments and varies the rhythm slightly.

On A3, the full band plays a variation on the melody, suddenly changing the dynamic from soft to very loud. Hamilton is soloing again, and then Gonsalves plays the last 4 bars.

My Old Flame 1953, 2nd chorus

B (2:02) A (2:28)
Melody: Hamilton

Tutti accompaniment (4), trombones (4)

Key: Bb

Tutti

dbl. time feel

Key: Db modulating back to Bb

In the 2nd chorus, Strayhorn breaks the AABA form by going straight to the B section. This time, Hamilton is playing the melody accompanied by some very advanced harmonies! Then the trombone sections takes care of the accompaniment for the last 4 bars.

But Strayhorn has more tricks up his sleeve. After the unexpected B section, he modulates up a minor third from Bb major to Db for the last A section! This time the melody is stated by the trumpets accompanied by the orchestra. After 4 bars he goes into double time feel for the climax, and then brings it down with Hamilton and Gonsalves ad-libbing, ending in the key of Bb where it started.

It’s quite interesting that Strayhorn chose to change the texture and dynamic so radical at A3 in the first chorus. When combined with the removal of A1 and A2 in the 2nd chorus, A3 now sounds more like the first A in the 2nd chorus. In other words, it feels more like: “AAB, ABA” instead of the usual “AABA, BA” that is often used for ballads.

#2: Three Little Words is composed by Harry Ruby with lyrics by Bert Kalmar, and was premiered in the film Check and Double Check in 1930. In the movie, we see the Ellington orchestra performing with the three trumpet players doing the vocal part. According to the discography, it was actually played by a studio orchestra with The Rhythm Boys singing. Ellington did record the tune for the movie, but it ended up being used in the film The Lady Refuses (1931) instead. He also recorded the song on disc several times in 1930, but I will focus on the one from august 26 with The Rhythm Boys on vocal.

The song is also written in the standard 32 bar AABA form, but apart from My Old Flame, there are many similarities between the two versions of Three Little Words. A detail worth pointing out about the melody itself, is that the last phrase in each section is constructed in such a way, that it leads to the next section. This makes the AABA structure less clear, but instead gives the song a sense of constant momentum.

Three Little Words 1930, 1st chorus

Intro (4 bars) (0:00) A1 (0:07) A2 (0:18) B (0:29) A3 (0:41)
Solo piano Low clarinets in harmony Muted trumpets Saxes Saxes

After the piano intro, the theme is stated in legit style by the three low clarinets playing in harmony. The melody is, very interesting, in the middle voice most of the time. On A2, muted trumpets takes over, and on B and A3 the saxes takes the lead.

Three Little Words 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (8 bars) (0:00) A1 (0:12) A2 (0:25) B (0:37) A3 (0:50)
Piano and bass Muted trombones

Countermelody: Saxes

Sim. Saxes Sim. to previous A’s

 The 1953 version also begins with a piano intro, but much more harmonically advanced. Then the muted trombones states the melody on the first two A’s, also in legit style, and with the two beat feeling preserved. The saxes adds an unison countermelody, and then takes over the melody on the B section with the bass in 4.

Three Little Words 1930, 2nd chorus

A1 (0:52) A2 (1:03) B (1:14) A3 (1:25)
Muted trumpets

Bigard answers

Sim. Sim. Saxes with baritone lead.

Brass plays bell-chords

On the 1930 version, the tune is stated again for the second chorus. Muted trumpets on AAB with fills by Barney Bigard on clarinet, and then the saxes takes over on the last A. Notice the baritone sax lead, and the bell-like chords in 3 beat groupings. The third chorus is sung by The Rhythm Boys with only the rhythm section and Bigard.

On the 1953 version, we get a beautiful trumpet solo by Willie Cook on the second chorus (1:03), accompanied by the rhythm section. The third chorus (1:53) is a tenor sax solo by Paul Gonsalves, heavily backed by a shouting brass section on the first two A’s. On B, Gonsalves is alone with the rhythm section, and then the brass returns on A3 for the ending.

The 1930 version has a fourth chorus (2:20), and it is a very interesting one. It’s the climax of the arrangement with the full band doing variations on the tune. Here, Ellington finally loosens up the rather rigid rhythmic interpretation of the song he has stuck to until now. Also notice how drummer Sonny Greer prepares this final chorus using only the hi-hat.

To sum it up: The first chorus of the 1953 version is quite faithful to the 1930 version. The very simple rhythmic interpretation of the melody played in parallel harmonies is preserved, along with the two beat feeling. The countermelody by the saxes add’s a modern touch to the arrangement. Apart from this, the two versions are very different. The 1930 version sticks to the melody all the way through, and only in the last chorus does Ellington vary the rhythmic interpretation of the song. In the 1953 version, the theme is only stated in the first chorus, and instead we get two choruses of improvised solos.

Author: Rasmus Henriksen

Premiered by Ellington part 1

This month, the website will focus on Ellington’s Capitol LP “Premiered by Ellington”. This 10” LP has music that is not composed by Ellington but recorded by him for the LP.

However, this first article is about Ellington’s journey from the end of his contract with RCA Victor at the end of 1946 to his period with Capitol 1953-1955. In the next articles in the series Rasmus Henriksen will take a close look at the eight songs in the 10” LP.

Farewell to RCA Victor

When the 1942-1944 recording ban by the American Federation of Musicians ended, Ellington resumed recording for RCA Victor, which kept him under contract until 3 September 1946.

It was still a period dominated by 78s. During the ban, RCA Victor like other major label had issued 78 albums with music recorded before the ban and once the ban was lifted they packaged new recordings in this format as well. In 1946, RCA Victor published the abbreviated studio recording of Black, Brown and Beige like that and had Ellington to record a set of W.C. Handy songs, which were packed it in an album called Ellington Plays the Blues.

The rest of Ellington’s recording for RCA Victor during his final two years were new versions of Ellington standards and some new compositions particularly featuring Kay Davis and other vocalists.

After RCA Victor had ended its contract with Ellington, he did not have a recording contract until he signed one with Columbia from 30 July 1947. In the intermediary period he did some recording sessions for Musicraft and Capitol Radio transcriptions.

At Columbia

By that time, George Avakian worked full time in Columbia’s pop A&R staff and on 22 December 1947, he produced his first record with Ellington. It was On A Turquoise Cloud. Two days later, Columbia recorded The Liberian Suite, which were to be issued 10” LP. It was the first time it happened to an Ellington recording. In an article in the DESS Bulletin in 2010. “It marked the first of several long Ellington works I had the pleasure to produce”, said Avakian in an article in the DESS Bulletin 2010.

Columbia initially recorded a significant part of Ellington’s and Billy Strayhorn’s new music of the late 1940’s, but a lot was also rather ordinary pop songs aimed at the singles and jukebox market.

Ellington’s contract with Columbia was renewed for two years on 30 July 1950.

By that time, George Avakian had been put in charge of a new Popular Albums. In this position, he managed to get an Ellington recording issued in Columbia’s prestigious Masterwork series, which were meant for the best of classical music. It was titled Masterpieces By Ellington and the four tracks of this Ellington 12” LP was recorded on 18 December 1950.

The LP is one of Ellington’s absolute best albums with some extraordinary arrangements, in particular by Billy Strayhorn, with solos of the highest quality and a marvelous sound for the times – a sound that still holds up now.

It sold well enough to allow Avakian to record a follow up. It was issued as Ellington Uptown and the tracks were recorded in December 1951 and in June and July 1952. As Ellington Masterpieces, it was issued in the Masterwork series.

The first track – Louie Bellson’s Skin Deep – with effective drumming by him made the LP a particular hit for demonstrating hifi equipment. This track was actually not recorded by Columbia but by Mercer Ellington’s Mercer Records, which sold it to Columbia.

However, the two LPs did not sell well enough to please the sales people at Columba and in 1953, Ellington was fed up with the company. He felt that he was both disfavored there compared to other artists when it came to making new records and neglected by the marketing people there. So he decided to leave Columbia for Capitol Records.

Moving to Capitol
The rather dry press release announcing his departure reflects his displeasure with Columbia: “I have signed with Capitol because this firm is doing an excellent job of presenting all its artists, particularly as it concerns exploitation.”

“I want a hit ….. I want to hear Ellington records in jukeboxes”, Ellington declared, and Capitol seemed a perfect choice for this. It was very successful with its focus on hit records.

The record company was founded in 1942 by singer Johnny Mercer together with songwriter and film producer Buddy DeSylvia and businessman Glenn Wallichs. The latter owned the famous record store Wallichs Music City in Hollywood. It soon became the first West Coast based record label, which could compete with the the likes of RCA Victor, Columbia and Decca.

Originally, it started with the focus on recording vocalists but soon it widened its scope to big bands and instrumentals. By the 1950s, Capitol had become a huge label that concentrated primarily on popular music of different kinds and had a good backbone talented arrangers like Billy May and Nelson Riddle.

The band that Ellington brought with him to Capitol was certainly very different from the one that stopped recording for RCA Victor in 1946. The seven years in between had seen many changes in its composition. Only five players from that time were still in the Ellington orchestra – Ray Nance, Cat Anderson, Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope and Harry Carney.

By replacing those who had left or stayed only a short period with some “solid” “old-timers and experienced players of a younger generation, Ellington started – perhaps unconsciously – to build the band that would put him back into the limelight at The Newport Jazz Festival 1956 and serve him well for the rest of the 1950’s and the early 1960’s.

In 1948, Quentin Jackson came on board to be the new “plunger-muter” and Wendell Marshall replaced Junior Raglin as the bass player.

In 1950, Paul Gonsalves was brought to the band as the new tenor sax player. He took over Al Sears’ chair even if there had been a couple of other tenor saxophonists between them.

In 1951 Ellington gave the band a kick by recruiting Willie Cook and Clark Terry to the trumpet section and Britt Woodman to the trombone section.

By the time Ellington moved over Capitol, the young alto saxophone player Rick Henderson and the drummer Butch Ballard was also part of the Ellington Orchestra.

 

Ellington recorded his first sides for Capitol on April 6, 1953 and the first song was a new one jointly composed by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn – Satin Doll. It was issued on a single shortly after it was recorded and made it to the hit lists for a short period. Ellington also got the marketing he yearned for. At the time of the release of the single, Capitol placed an elaborate full page Ellington ad in Billboard. However, this was as close as Ellington got to a hit. None of his other recordings did as well as Satin Doll and most of them were not released as singles but as EPs or LPs.

Ellington recorded 88 songs during his 25 months with Capitol, some of them twice. Not all of them were issued at the time. And it was really a mixed bag of music.

Some were meant to be issued as singles and some in extended or long-playing formats. Some were numbers for the full orchestra, others for a vocalist at the front. Some were familiar Ellington songs recorded several times before, others were new songs from his Strayhorn’s or band members’ pens, which had not yet found their way to a recording studio. Melodies strongly associated with other big bands and well-known hits from the 1930’s were also picked for recording.

Some of the arrangements of songs recorded were done by arrangers outside the normal inner Ellington circle like Gerald Wilson, Dick Vance and Buck Clayton. One reason was apparently that Strayhorn was unhappy with the way things were moving with Ellington and stayed a little bit on the sideline for a while focusing on other things.

The result of Ellington’s 23 visits to Capitol recording studios was nine singles and five LP albums. Some of the singles were vocal numbers by Jimmy Grissom, others were the “infamous” numbers in mambo rhythm that enraged hard-core Ellington fans but there were also some good orchestra numbers.

The first LP issued was “Premiered by Ellington” (1953). It is a 10’’ LP with eight songs such as “Stormy Weather, My Old Flame, and Three Little Words, Liza and Stardust that Ellington had recorded in the 1930s (except for Liza and Stardust which is also among the songs). The record also includes a good rendition of “Flamingo”. It was as well issued as a 45 rpm two-disc EP album at the time.

The next LP issue was another 10’’ vinyl, “Duke Plays Ellington” (1954) with eight songs played by Ellington assisted by Wendell Marshall and Butch Ballard. It places the “background piano player” at the forefront and the result unveils a side of Ellington until then unknown for many fans and critics. The record was also released 1954 as a 12’’ LP with four additional songs. It is perhaps the best of the Capitol albums.

Another 1954 release of Capitol recordings was the 12’’ LP “Dance To The Duke”. This is an album of old and new Ellington songs and is together with “Duke Plays Ellington” the best album coming out of the Capitol period. It shows that the Ellington orchestra was excellent, rejuvenated as it was with the recruitment of some young skillful players in the first years of the 1950’s.

The two 1955 releases are also good ones. The “Ellington ‘55” album is a tribute to the great big bands of the swing era (including the Ellington band) but it is also a way to show that Ellington and his rejuvenated orchestra could master this kind of repertoire as well. The performances are indeed energized by new arrangements.

The final Capitol album “Ellington Showcase” is exactly this – a showcase for the skills of the soloists of the band playing some more recent Ellington (and Strayhorn) songs and arrangements.

On May 19, 1955, a small band from within the orchestra was in Capitol studio in Chicago for what was to become Ellington’s farewell session. It starts with “Discontended Blues” and ends with “So Long”. The message had been delivered and Ellington was going to move on.

Part 2 of the series, which will be published next week on 18 January, will be about My Old Flame and Three Little Words.

Author: Ulf Lundin

Discographical and goodies notes 2023-1

My People

In the beginning of December, I published an article about DR Ellington Broadcasts program 49.

The broadcast has 11 tracks, which have not been available before. I have put the discographical information for these track together with discographical information for what has been issued before of My People.(the LP issued on the Bod Thiele’s Contact label in 1964 and Storyville’s CD “The Complete Show” published in 2012 in the attached Excel sheet.

I appreciate very much the help of Bjarne Busk to put it together. The mistakes are completely mine. I am happy to get corrections.

My People – issued takes

Portraet Af En Hertug (The Potrait of A Duke)

In 1969, a Danish team put together a television program with this title. It was a co-production between Danish and Swedish TV and was broadcasted both in Denmark and Sweden. I have had a good quality video of the program for a couple of years but now it is also available at YouTube.

The film has interviews with Duke Ellington blended with film clips from Ellington films and recordings. There are also interviews with Mercer Ellington, and Willie the Lion Smith.

 

Ellington specialist and DESS member Brian Koller has taken the trouble to identify the clips in the film and and provide the NDESOR identification. Here is his list:

Portraet Af En Hertug Koller

Ellington at the Band Box in NYC 1953

This goodie was originally uploaded to the Goodies Room as a wav file on 20 December last year. A couple of days later, arranger, bandleader, DESS member and more

Hans Christian Doerrscheidt sent us a comment about pitch and glitches in the file and provided a corrected file in mp3 format. It has now replaced the original file. Thank you so much, Hans Christian.

Author: Ulf Lundin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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