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Echoes of Ellington in full swing.
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Devotees of the Duke do him proud
Jack Massarik, London Evening Standard
Hustled onstage when the club’s renovations had to be postponed for another fortnight, the 16-piece Echoes of Ellington orchestra seized their big chance with gusto last night. After 14 years together, this unusual blend of seasoned swing-band veterans and younger studio session stars sounded as ready as they’ll ever be. Led by wisecracking clarinettist Peter Long, the London-based repertory band were relaxed yet well-drilled, playing with vigour, commitment and a refreshing willingness to entertain.
Their fast moving programme features little-heard rarities, including Jam-a-Ditty, Kalina and Stay Awake (from the Duke Ellington Plays Mary Poppins album, pronounced “Unclean” by purists) among such standards as Mainstem, Perdido, Caravan (cued as “The Camping Song”) and the classic theme once famously announced on Jazz FM as “Take A Train”. Adding smooth vocals to I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart and some ladylike scatting to several of the above-named songs was Patti Revell, looking very much the part in her glittering spangled ballgown.
With five reeds, three trombones and four trumpets, the band packed a solid ensemble punch and had effective soloists in the Ellingtonian style. Nathan Bray provided the Cat Anderson high-note trumpet breaks, Jay Craig evoked baritone sax icon Harry Carney, tenorist Mike Hall made a worthy stab at the slithery tenor-sax style of Paul Gonsalves, and Long himself took Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet parts.
Discreetly nodding his shaven head in time with the attractive blonde-haired one of his wife Ffion was a well-known politician. Some say he would have made a far hipper PM than the air-guitar playing rockhead in that post. Sadly, they’re probably right.
Harlem Air Shaft
"You get the full essence of Harlem in an air shaft. You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people making love. You hear intimate gossip floating down. You hear the radio. An air shaft is one great big loudspeaker You see your neighbour's laundry. You hear the janitor's dogs. The man upstairs' aerial falls down and hreaks your window. You smell coffee. I tried to put all that into 'Harlem Air Shaft' "
"I have no idea who Pete Long is.
When the Echoes of Ellington album was handed to me, I immediately played "Harlem Air Shaft" with the worst misgivings in the world. And was astonished.
Somehow Pete Long had got the music down anil then got enough musicians together to play it with finesse and a tremendous energy. The track so galvanised me that I thought I might be drunk. Next day I tried it again. Same thing, a brilliant reconstitution of a prewar classic. After that, my reactions were a foregone conclusion."
Benny Green Knowing The Score
A GREAT DEAL of the music used in an 'Echoes of Ellington' concert comes from the
Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. All of Ellington's known surviving manuscripts are held there, and there are so many that the task of sorting and indexeing them is still going on.
An Ellington score reveals much about the way Duke approached his entire art form. Whereas most composers or composers will use professionally printed score paper with a separate line of music for each instrument, Ellington wrote his great works on pretty much anything which was to hand. For the most part they have been written in spiral bound music textbooks, but Ellington had devised a form of musical shorthand which enabled him to record his musical thoughts on the backs of envelopes, menus and the occasional irate letter from a jilted girlfriend!
Even when the music is in longhand, there is still a great deal of decoding work to be done. At the maximum, there will be only four lines of music for the (up to) seventeen members of his orchestra. The saxophone section occupy the top line, except for Harry Carney's baritone sax part, which for some reason has the whole next line to itself, but written an octave higher than it sounds. On the third line you will find the trumpets, usually marked as "Cors", a habit from the very early days when comets were used. On the bottom line are the trombones, but you will also find extra notes around the bottom of this which are sketchy indications of the double bass part. The piano, guitar and drums are not written for at all.
Improvised provised sections are denoted on the score simply by using the name of the player concerned and an indication of the length in bars of the solo. Sometimes you see the word "Boston", which was a slang term at the time, meaning to take an improvised solo. Often, you just get a cluster of notes with names and arrows arranged around indicating which musician was to play each part, proof that Ellington really did write for his individual players. This is especially apparent in his saxophone writing where he often changes the player carrying the lead part in the course of one piece to alter the timbre of the section sound. It also means that you have to brush up your anorak to check who was in the band on which instrument at what time.
The following Duke Ellington compositions form part of the orchestra's repertoire.
Take the 'A' Train
Although written by Billy Strayhorn, Duke used this as his signature tune for many years. Our arrangement is taken from the 1950 recording, and features the skittish bebop vocai made famous by singers Betty Roche and Ray Nance.
Concerto for Cootie
A beautiful piece from EIlington's "Golden Age" of the early forties, Concerto for Cootie is a showcase for the singing qualities of the trumpet in its open and plunger muted states. It occupies an unusual position in the repertoire of jazz, as the soloist is required to not improvise.
Originally, and much more fittingly entitled "Altitude", Main Stem from the early forties, with its twisting bitonal melody and driving rhythm, is considered by some to he a signpost pointing to the new jazz of the mid- to late forties. It is a tribute to Ellington's sense of human nature that a twisting bitonal melody which would normally repel a general audience has them on their feet and dancing within seconds.
I'm Beginning to see the Light
Developed from a line originally written by saxophone master Johnny Hodges, this song was a big hit for Duke, and an even bigger one for Harry James. Duke was on the road at the time this song became famous, and the first he knew of its success was hearing it on the radio in a roadside diner.
C Jam Blues
Alternatively known as 'C Blues' or 'Jam Blues', or very occasionally 'B Sharp Boston', the C Jam Blues must hold the record for the most amount of royalties earned from the minimum of notes wrtten (two). The arrangement played here was written by Billy Strayhorn, and consists of the brass chords over the last 36 bars of the piece underneath the clarinet solo. illustrating Duke's skills as an editor in drawing 5 minutes of great music from 30 seconds of composition.
The Cotton Club Show opener from 1928, Jubilee Stomp gives the band an opportunity to play some vintage Ellington with Vintage Techniques. Note that the saxophone section consists only of two altos and one C-Melody, the double bass is played mostly with a bow, and the forbidden "Instrument of Passion", the banjo, makes an appearance.
Prelude to a Kiss
The mid-fifties arrangement of this classic ballad, featuring the alto saxophone.
Stompin' at the Savoy
This arrangement dates from 1955, when Ellington recorded an album of arrangements saluting his rival bandleaders from the swing era. It was done for him by a trumpet player called Dick Vance, who was trying to curry favour with the Duke in order to get a place in his trumpet section. Unfortunately for him, the ruse didn't work, and Duke ended up with a pile of free music.
Such Sweet Thunder
This reflects the more academic side of the band's repertoire, as it comes from one of Ellington's famous extended works, in this case, the Shakespeare Suite. As well as being of academic merit, it is a rocking blues, giving the trumpet soloist an opportunity to really shine.
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