Monday, July 22, 2013

Caravan and Caravans

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It’s hard to remember a time when the tune Caravan hasn’t been a part of my Jazz consciousness.

I mean, sooner or later, everyone has a go at it, mainly because, it’s fun to play.

Drummers love it [not to mention, exotic dancers] as the tune is usually used as a launching pad for extended drum solos.

I have 82 different versions of the tune in my collection, many, as you would imagine, by various iterations of the Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, since he co-composed the tune with Juan Tizol.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun, with the aid of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities at StudioCerra, to develop three videos featuring different versions of the tune and post them at the end of this piece.

By way of background, here are some Ted Gioia’s thoughts about Caravan as contained in his The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire [New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 58-59. You can locate more information on Ted’s writings with a visit to

“The popularity of this song has been steadily on the rise in the jazz world during the last several decades, so much so that "Caravan" is now one of the most com­monly covered "Ellington" songs. I attribute this state of affairs to the composi­tion's adaptability to a modernistic, modal-based approach. The main theme relies on a vamp that is well suited for a wide gamut of post-bop and Coltrane-esque performance styles. A horn player who has been working over modal licks and scales all day in the practice room can call this at the gig and immediately try out all of the tricks of the trade, in a way that just wouldn't be possible with, say, "Sophisticated Lady" or "Mood Indigo."

The main theme of this composition was contributed by Juan Tizol, not Ellington, nor was Duke the first bandleader to record it. "Caravan" first shows up as a small combo feature for Barney Bigard and His Jazzopators, with Elling­ton on piano—one of a series of tracks released during this period under the ostensible leadership of sidemen in Duke's ensemble. …

Fans of this work will find no shortage of outstanding renditions. …

I don't anticipate the popularity of this song to fade any time soon. It works as a loose jam session song, and is also adaptable to very stylized arrangements evoking any number of moods. The changes are easy enough for even intermediate players to handle, and the melody still sounds modernistic so many decades after it was composed. Certainly audiences respond to it, but the musicians are even more de­voted to the song, assuring it a prominent place in set lists for the foreseeable future.”

Ted has very high praise for Wynton Marsalis’ 1986 version of Caravan so let’s lead off with that one in this video tribute to Wynton [Click on the “X” to close out of the ads].

Throughout his all-too-brief-career, Michel Petrucciani was devoted to the music of The Duke [good choice!] and always put on quite a show at his solo piano recitals with his version of Caravan, which served as a launching pad for a staggering display of his pianism [aka virtuosity on the piano]. You can listen to it while viewing the following video of desert caravans [best to have a bottle of water handy].

And finally, some of the best Latin Jazz on the planet is served up by the Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band which is based in Tokyo, Japan. Talk about launching pads, check out the Nettai’s blistering version of Caravan in this video that will also serve to introduce you to many of the band’s recordings and it’s first-rate musicians. These guys can Play.


  1. May I also recommend the version Ella Fitzgerald does with the full Ellington band on her Ellington Songbook. I understand that Billy Strayhorn did the big band arrangements for this date, and it's a major reworking of the by then warhorse, with a nifty vamp that makes it fresh.

    Jim from Baltimore

  2. I'm not surprised at the Japanese cum Cuban band. I have a video of the Afro Cuban All Stars in concert in Japan that shows the audience clapping in clave. I remember Duke Ellington had to hold two-minute clinics to get his audiences to clap on two and four! We Americans may have to go to Japan from time to time to get our hip cards punched.

    Jim from Baltimore


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