Happy Birthday, Duke.
April 29, 2020 7:28 PM   Subscribe

I was driving through New Jersey and heard a radio station holding a marathon of Duke Ellington recordings in chronological order. I particularly noticed a series of alternate takes of "Creole Rhapsody".

As the announcer played through the takes, he explained the significance of the piece in 1931: It was too long to fit on one side of a 78 rpm and too complicated for people expecting dance music. It also followed a classical music form, a rondo with three themes ABABCAB. In a 1962 interview, Duke recalled the negative reaction of the record company, saying "We just about got thrown off the label." In 1935 he wrote "Reminiscing in Tempo", which took four sides to record. In 1943, he wrote the first of his jazz suites, "Black Brown and Beige", which was famously performed at Carnegie Hall. The pieces kept getting longer, but the seed was there in "Creole Rhapsody".
posted by acrasis (7 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
🎵 Music knows it is and always will
Be one of the things that life just won't quit
But here are some of music's pioneers
That time will not allow us to forget
For there's Basie, Miller, Satchmo
And the king of all Sir Duke
And with a voice like Ella's ringing out
There's no way the band can lose 🎶
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:46 PM on April 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thanks !
posted by nicolin at 12:59 AM on April 30, 2020

Love listening to Big Band music but had never heard these. Thank you for the music and the background story.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:29 AM on April 30, 2020

I've listened to a lot of Duke Ellington in the past year. A lot. Developing a familiarity with his music was part of a larger project, but his discography is so ridiculously vast that just assessing questions like:

(a) what all did he record?
(b) how many times, and under what titles, were all those tracks released?
(c) which of those recordings are available via either streaming services or CD?

...ended up taking most of a year. And here's what I've learned: despite his legendary reputation, and a long life spent making a living as one of America's most famous musicians, despite documentaries and interviews and postage stamps and retrospectives and biographies and on and on and on...the man is still not famous enough. Not well known enough to establish parity with his talent and his commitment to his art. It is literally impossible to imagine what music would sound like today absent his body of work, and the influence it had downstream. Our national culture would be markedly different, and for the worse, if Duke Ellington hadn't been born.
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:13 AM on April 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Ellington was a Colossus striding the Earth, Ipsifendus. I do have to throw out the usual caveats: he didn't give enough credit to his bandmembers for their contributions, although that was true of big band jazz as a whole; there was a "Great Man" theory for bandleaders that sometimes discounted the collaborative nature of the music. Ellington was less a great composer by himself than a great synthesizer. Also, although Ellington treated musicians well, he did not necessarily treat his wives that well.

His output and its quality is daunting to someone just starting to listen to him. If I had to pick one place to start, I'd choose the live recording of Ellington in Fargo, ND from 1940. Two fans asked permission to tape this performance in the middle of nowhere, so this is just a random snapshot of the band in action in a venue where they didn't really need to be very good. But they were.
posted by acrasis at 9:58 AM on April 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Driving through New Jersey listening to a day-long birthday celebration for Ellington probably means you were tuned in to WKCR 89.9, the Columbia University station. They do 24-hour birthday broadcasts for a number of jazz greats. Broadcasting alternate takes of songs in chronological order is something Phil Schaap, who recently celebrated his 50th year with the station, does frequently on his shows.
posted by plastic_animals at 10:07 AM on April 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Thanks Plastic animals! I tried looking it up with no success. Listening to that was one of the great driving experiences of my life. I couldn't wait for the conference to end so I could drive back and hear more.
posted by acrasis at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2020

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