Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ellington in Stuttgart

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

It’s always a great occasion when more of Duke Ellington’s music is made available through recordings, especially when these are made “in performance” [I hate the word “live;” what’s the alternative – “dead?”].

To my ears, nothing beats the sound of Jazz recorded as it is happening [recording studios can be such sterile places].

I have always enjoyed the simple lyricism and vivid gracefulness of the music composed by Duke and his close associate, Billy Strayhorn.

Duke and Billy wrote some of the most instantly recognizable melodies in the history of Jazz. You hear it, you hum it.

Needles to say, then, that the editorial staff at JazzProfiles was thrilled when JAZZHAUS released Big Band Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra [They didn’t ask our opinion on their choice of titles.]

“JAZZHAUS is the new music label featuring audio (and video) jazz programs taken from live radio and television recordings from the archives of Sudwestrundfunk. Jazz broadcasts by Sudwestrundfunk (SWR) started in the summer of 1947. Today, 65 years later, the archives contain about 1,600 audio and more than 350 television recordings of all major modern jazz artists - probably the biggest collection of unpublished live jazz recordings in the world: 3,000 hours - and almost all of it has never been released before. More than 400 ensembles and soloists are listed - many of them recorded three, four, five or more times over the decades.

For the last three years, the JAZZHAUS team has been thoroughly researching the vaults, carefully making the final selections. The old tapes are currently being re-mastered to high-end technology standards and will be released on CD, DVD, vinyl and as audio /video-on-demand downloads.”

Recorded at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart on March 6, 1967 Big Band Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra [#101703] contains thirteen [13] previously unreleased performance fFrom the Sudwestrundfunk Archives with an Ellington band that features Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney,Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, et al.

Michael Bloom’s firm is once again handling the media relations for Naxos of America, the north American distributors of the JAZZHAUS series and he sent along a press release that contains the following review by  Jonathan Woolf which appeared on MusicWeb International.

“The Ellington road show hit Stuttgart in March 1967. Cootie Williams was back in the serried ranks but Billy Strayhorn was nearing the end; he died a few weeks after the concert. The tunes played reflect a diverse range of Strayhorn and Ellington and beyond - beyond being represented by Raymond Fol's tune Salome. According to W.E. Timmer's massive Ellingtonia, a number of other songs were performed but aren't presented in this 73-minute disc, including long time favourites such as Blood Count and Things Ain't, as well as, Mount Harissa and Drag.

We must be grateful for the material that has been preserved and presented in such good sound here. Procope and Hamilton form a formidable clarinet choir, echoing the late 20s days in Swamp Goo with the former taking an extensive cadential passage. Knob Hill is a sinuous Latin American swinger with hints of Horace Silver. Gonsalves rips through it. One can hear Ellington's very ducal piano prompts in that genial finger snapper, Eggo, whilst Cat Anderson's trumpet, like a dazzling Bird of Paradise, is peculiarly iridescent in La Plus Belle Africaine. We also hear Harry Carney's evocative lowing, Jimmy Hamilton's famously 'straight' clarinet and the fine bass playing of John Lamb, often overlooked in discussions on the subject of Ellingtonian rhythm sections.

Lawrence Brown has his feature on Rue Bleue whilst Carney's is on A Chromatic Love Affair where he displays his incredible tonal variety - at points, you'd swear he was playing tenor and not baritone. Anderson finally goes stratospheric on Fol's Salome, whilst his desk partner Williams arrives for a preaching outing on the Gospel-drenched The Shepherd and stays to turn up the heat on his well-loved Tuttifor Cootie. At long last Johnny Hodges casts his hypnotic spell on Freakish Lights before drummer Rufus Jones has an animated, though occasionally tawdry, bash during Kixx.

Ellington kept up a mighty schedule, of which this single concert (or part of it) forms a useful element. The band seldom slipped lower than great. What a privilege it would have been to have seen them in the flesh.”

In his insert notes to the disc, the recording’s producer, Ulli Pfau, offered these observations about the music on Big Band Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra [JAZZHAUS 101703].


Ellington considered two topics to be off-limits: illness and death. It was for this reason he refused to make a will to the last, fearful of tempting fate and provoking his own demise. He was able to main­tain his orchestra ("the most important thing in my life") with the millions he earned from Tempo, his music publishing company - always conscious of the need to surround himself with individualists; some players stayed with him for decades. Almost constantly on the road following his comeback in Newport in 1956, his career staging posts were largely marked by the studio recordings. He released around 35 albums between 1960 and 1967 alone, including adaptations of classi­cal works, the "Far East Suite" and the "Sacred Concerts".

1967 was a year of triumphs: the outstanding trumpeter Cootie Williams, unbe­lievable in "The Shepherd" and "Tutti for Cootie", was back on board; but then tragedy struck again a few weeks after the Stuttgart concert with the death of Duke's alter ego Billy Strayhorn.

Throwing caution to the wind and refusing to rely solely on time-served hits, Duke and his 14 musicians launch themselves into the new adventure. "Johnny Come Lately" breaks the ice, "Swamp Goo" featuring clarinettist Russell Procope has the magical "Jungle Sound", Paul Gonsalves' tenor sax dances though "Knob Hill", Cat Anderson's trumpet hit the strato­sphere and Harry Carney's baritone horn gives a close-up account of "A Chromatic Love Affair".”

Here’s a sample track from Big Band Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra [JAZZHAUS 101703].