Duke Ellington
(Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Krentz Ratings:
Jump for Joy (1941), 5/10
Beggar's Holiday (1946), 5/10
Masterpieces by Ellington (1950), 6/10
Piano Reflections (1953), 7.5/10
Such Sweet Thunder (1956), 6.5/10
A Drum is a Woman (1956), 5/10
Echoes Of Harlem/ Concerto For Cootie (1936), 6/10
Black Brown and Beige (1943), 7/10
Perfume Suite (1944), 7/10
Deep South Suite (1946), 6.5/10
Liberian Suite (1947), 7/10
Jam-A-Ditty (1946), 7/10
Jump for Joy (1941), 6/10
Beggar's Holiday (1946), 6/10
Harlem (1950), 7.5/10
A Drum Is A Woman (1956), 6/10
My People (1963), 6/10
Far East Suite (1966), 6.5/10
The Golden Broom And The Green Apple (1965), 7/10
La Plus Belle Africaine (1966), 6.5/10
Concert of Sacred Music (1965), 7/10
Second Sacred Concert (1968), 7/10
Concert of Sacred Music (1973), 6.5/10
Latin American Suite (1968), 6/10
The River (1970), 6/10
The Queen's Suite (1959), 7.5/10
New Orleans Suite (1970), 6.5/10
Queenie Pie (1974), 6/10

Artistically the era of "swing" and of the big bands was dominated by the orchestra of Edward "Duke" Ellington (1899), the first great composer (and self-arranger) of jazz music (and one of the most prolific in the entire history of music). A Washington pianist, raised in a middle-class family, who had moved to New York in 1923, he first proved his skills as a composer with the Washingtonians, that included drummer William "Sonny" Greer: Choo Choo (november 1924), a novelty that imitated the sound of a train, East St Louis Toodle-Oo (november 1926), originally credited to the Kentucky Club Orchestra, his first major artistic statement and the manifesto of trombonist Joe Nanton's brash ebullience, New Orleans Low-Down (february 1927), also by the Kentucky Club Orchestra, with a typical light-hard contrast between the two trumpets, Black and Tan Fantasy (april 1927), a metaphysical fantasia that ended with a funeral march and was highlighted (the october version) by a dramatic trumpet solo, Washington Wobble (october 1927), the first recording credited to the Duke Ellington's Orchestra, Creole Love Call (october 1927), in which Adelaide Hall's wordless singing basically instructs the instruments how to play (thus reenacting the primordial relationship between blues vocals and jazz instruments), Harlem River Quiver (december 1927), and, again both credited to the Washingtonians, Jubilee Stomp (march 1928), with another epochal trumpet solo, and The Mooche (october 1928), another stomp a` la Black and Tan Fantasy but featuring blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson.
Bubber Miley's wah-wah trumpet (originally an imitation of the blues shouting of Mamie Smith, whom he accompanied in 1921) was as essential as Ellington's piano. The growling sound of both his trumpet and Joe Nanton's trombone lent the band's sound its "savage" appeal. Couple with Sonny Greer's primordial drumming, they evoked the African jungle, and therefore was advertised as "jungle music". But Ellington soon dispelled the notion of being a novelty act by debuting his archetypical "mood" (impressionistic) pieces, Misty Mornin' (november 1928), Awful Sad (october 1928) and Hot And Bothered (october 1928). In fact, even the most facile and danceable of Ellington's pieces exhibited the ability to maximize drama and color within a three-minute song that only Jelly Roll Morton had mastered before him.
In 1928 Ellington debuted his archetypical "mood" (impressionistic) pieces, Misty Mornin', Awful Sad, and Hot And Bothered. Between 1927 and 1931 Ellington performed at Harlem's "Cotton Club", in front of an audience that was mostly white. These shows were occasionally broadcasted live, a fact that made Ellington a nation-wide celebrity. He owed it to white manager and publisher Irving Mills, the man who promoted his music as "jungle" music, who found him the contract at the "Cotton Club", and who made sure the shows were broadcasted on the radio.
He seemed capable of delivering tunes like an assembly line: Doin' The Voom Voom (january 1929), Flamin' Youth (january 1929), Harlem Flat Blues (march 1929), credited to the Jungle Band and highlighted by Nanton's "talking" solo, The Dicty Glide (march 1929), Sweet Dreams Of Love (june 1930), Sweet Jazz Of Mine (june 1930), the raunchy stomp Old Man Blues (august 1930), What Good Am I Without You (november 1930), I'm So In Love With You (november 1930). The collective interplay first achieved on Old Man Blues (august 1930) crystallized with Rockin' In Rhythm (january 1931), Echoes of the Jungle (june 1931) and Mystery Song (june 1931). But these were the nail in the coffin of New Orleans' collective improvisation, as they were painstakingly organized.
When that engagement came to an end (1931), Ellington began to show the real breadth of his ambitions: Creole Rhapsody, that was released in two versions (six minutes in january 1931 and eight minutes minutes in june 1931), both requiring more than a side (the first one took up both sides of a 10" record, the second one took up both sides of a 12" record), the nine-minute suite Symphony in Black (october 1934), and the splendid 13-minute Reminiscing in Tempo (september 1935), possibly the first thoroughly composed jazz piece (originally recorded over four sides) were the longest jazz pieces ever committed to a record, challenging the limitations of the medium (the 78 RPM record could hardly fit three minutes of music), and felt like jazz music's equivalent of a classical concerto; while his melodic themes, that included Mood Indigo (december 1930), in which he turned upside down the conventions of jazz by assigning the highest part to the trumpet, the middle to the trombone and the lowest to the clarinet, It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing (february 1932), the birth certificate of swing music, the first major hit with a vocalist (Ivie Anderson on wordless scatting), Sophisticated Lady (february 1933), Daybreak Express (december 1933), Solitude (january 1934) and In A Sentimental Mood (april 1935), were worthy of the most gifted of Tin Pan Alley's songwriters, but with atmospheric and almost philosophical overtones that harked back to classical music. The group's ambience owed quite a bit to the majestic tones of alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges (the first great master of the instrument) and to the very long notes of baritone saxophonist Harry Carney (both had joined in 1928).
Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol (who had joined in 1929) introduced an exotic element with his compositions: Caravan (december 1936), that debuted Afro-Cuban rhythms in a swing context, A Gypsy Without A Song (june 1938), and Perdido (december 1941).
Ellington composed relatively few songs in the first half of the 1930s, and a lot more at the end of the decade. Not surprisingly, the former are mostly masterpieces and the latter are mostly disposable. However, even the classics of Ellington's later years show how broad his stylistic territory was, ranging from dance numbers to catchy tunes, from mood pieces to abstract meditations: the micro-concerto Clarinet Lament (february 1936), also known as Barney's Concerto, the ambitious Crescendo in Blue (september 1937), the pensive Lost In Meditation (march 1938), originally titled Have a Heart, Prelude To A Kiss (august 1938), another of his paradisiac melodies, Braggin' In Brass (march 1938), a frantic piece which instead dispensed with melody altogether, the dejected Ko-Ko (march 1940), Jack the Bear (march 1940), propelled by bassist Jimmy Blanton (who had joined in 1939 but died in 1942), the greatest virtuoso yet of the instrument who turned the bass into a melodic vehicle, Cotton Tail (may 1940), another tortuous melody with a brainy solo by tenor saxophonist Ben Webster (who had just joined), Never No Lament (may 1940), an instrumental later adapted to lyrics as Don't Get Around Much Anymore, the ebullient Harlem Air-shaft (july 1940), Bojangles (may 1940), dedicated to tap dancer Bill Robinson, Sepia Panorama (july 1940), a micro-concerto drenched in blues music that displayed Ellington, Blanton and Webster at their best, Pitter Patter Panther (october 1940), the ultimate duet between Blanton and Ellington, the tone poems Dusk (may 1940) and Moon Mist (february 1941), Take The "A" Train (january 1941), composed by pianist Billy Strayhorn (who had joined in 1939), I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good (june 1941), another showcase for Ivie Anderson's scat singing, Main Stem (june 1942), a showcase for Hodges, The 'C' Jam Blues (september 1941), I'm Beginning To See The Light (december 1944), Happy Go Lucky Local (november 1946), and two more experiments with the human voice, Transbluency (january 1946), and On a Turquoise Cloud (december 1947), Kay Davis' wordless masterpieces.
Ellington lost Williams in 1940, Blanton in 1941, Anderson in 1942, Webster in 1943, Tizol in 1944, cornetist Rex Stewart (who had been with him since 1934) in 1945, Hodges and Greer in 1951. The last hit of his band was Satin Doll (april 1953). Fleurette Africaine (september 1962), perhaps his last great melody, was a collaboration with Charles Mingus and Max Roach.
His mind and his heart were clearly no longer into songs. To start with, the new format of the long-playing allowed him to think differently. Masterpieces by Ellington (december 1950) contained a 15-minute version of Mood Indigo that sounded like the belated manifesto of his vision of the entire orchestra as one large instrument, the instrument that he played. Second, he was fascinated by the challenge of creating an extended format for jazz music. He already had under his belt Echoes Of Harlem (december 1936), better known as Concerto For Cootie, ostensibly a showcase for the trumpet of Cootie Williams (who had replaced Miley in 1929), the three-movement orchestral suite Black Brown and Beige (premiered in january 1943), a musical recapitulation to the odyssey of black Americans, the three impressionist suites Perfume Suite (december 1944), Deep South Suite (november 1946) and Liberian Suite (december 1947), Jam-A-Ditty (january 1946), ostensibly a "concerto for four jazz horns", and the two musicals Jump for Joy (july 1941) and Beggar's Holiday (december 1946), an adaptation of John Gay's "Beggar's Opera". Now he proceeded to compose ever more ambitious music: the 14-minute tone poem Harlem (composed in 1950), the profound Piano Reflections (april 1953), the 12-movement suite Such Sweet Thunder (august 1956), inspired by Shakespeare and a collaboration with Billy Strayhorn, the musical A Drum Is A Woman (september 1956), co-written with Billy Strayhorn and another artistic peak, the pageant My People (august 1963), the Far East Suite (december 1966), another Strayhorn collaboration (a suite of songs composed between 1963 and 1966), Duke Ellington – piano
Mercer Ellington – trumpet, flugelhorn
Herbie Jones – trumpet, flugelhorn
William "Cat" Anderson – trumpet
Cootie Williams – trumpet
Lawrence Brown – trombone
Buster Cooper – trombone
Chuck Connors – bass trombone
Johnny Hodges – alto saxophone
Russell Procope – alto saxophone, clarinet
Jimmy Hamilton – tenor saxophone, clarinet
Paul Gonsalves – tenor saxophone
Harry Carney – baritone saxophone
John Lamb – double bass
Rufus Jones – drums

"Tourist Point of View" – 5:09
"Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)" – 3:18
"Isfahan" – 4:02
"Depk" – 2:38
"Mount Harissa" – 7:40
"Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)" – 3:00
"Agra" – 2:35
"Amad" – 4:26
"Ad Lib on Nippon" – 11:34
Liner notes by Stephanie Stein Crease:

"After thirteen different shots and vaccinations, we leave New York on September 6, 1963, for one of the most unusual and adventurous trips we have ever undertaken...." By this time. Duke Ellington had long been an international celebrity, and he ind his hand had been de facto jazz ambassador: since their first tour to England in 1933. 13m their 14-week tour of the Mideast and India. trekking from one exotic locale to another, would be their first and only tour sponsored by the State Department. Under President John E Kennedy's administration, with two State Department representatives in tow, the band's trade route wound through Syria, Jordan, India, Sri Lanka (then still Ceylon), Iran, Iraq, and other countries. Ellington and his long-time collaborator Billy Strayborn were hoping to write sonic new music inspired by their trip.

Their schedule was as grueling as ever, though in a different way. The band spent a few days in major cities—Amman, Kabul, New Delhi, Born bay, Calcutta, Kandy, Karachi—and performed a couple of scheduled concerts in mull. at times to monumental crowds (the opening concert in Damascus drew 17,000 people). After a cultural briefing at even' new stop, Ellington and company were required to attend daily receptions and luncheons with ambassadors, diplomats, royal families and of one on or another. Duke was frequently asked to play, and he and a handful of band members obliged with informal lecture jam-sessions with Ellington as commentator/pianist.

As hoped. the trip worked its magic on Ellington's and — Strayhorn’s — musical imaginations. Within a few months, they composed four pieces, dmad, Depk, Agra and Bluebird of Delhi, which were collected into a suite entitled Impressions of the Far kast that premiered in England in early 1964. In 1966, Ellington recorded the — suite for RCA (resuming his long history with the label), now titled the Far East Suite, with an additional five movements. Three of the movements were Ellington's and Strayhorn's latest musical reflections of their trip. Strayhorn's Isfahan was originally a piece called E/f that he'd composed months before the tour, which just happened to complement — the other movements. Ad Lib on Nippon, composed for the band's first trip to Japan in June 1964, became the suite's finale, finally legitimizing the title.

The tour and the compositions it inspired were sandwiched between many other commissions and commitments, making 1963 and 1964 intensely active-even by Ellingtonian standards. In the summer of '63. Ellington had put together My People, a musical-theater piece, for a commemorative exhibition in Chicago, the Century of Negro Progress Exposition, which coincided with the height of the civil rights struggle. Meanwhile Duke also wrote the music for a Stratford. Ontario production of Shakepeare's Timon of Athens. flew back and forth to both productions. and played one-nighters with the band in between. Strayhorn ended up leading the 17-piece band assembled for My People's run (most of the musicians had worked with Duke for varving stretches), which ended a few davs before Ellington and company were to take off for Syria.

The Far East Suite was hardly an anomaly. compositionally speaking. For years. Ellington was inclined to write longer works—tone poems and theme-driven suites. impressionistic i nature, conjuring dancers. movement and various vistas, such as the deep South, Harlem and the Caribbean. The suite format had evolved into Ellington's and Stravhorn’s: preterred means of collaborating on new works (though Duke pioneered extended jazz pieces deeades earlier. notably Creole Rhapsody and Black, Brown and Beige). Suites were flexible. adaptable and often the solution for Ellington's and Strayhorn's mix'n'match writing techniques and creative dilemmas, as well as their need to churn things out on the road or over the phone. Ellington's suites and ambitious longer works have at times been pointedly criticized for their seeming lack of cohesive compositional structure. Such Siweet Thunder and Afro-Bossa notably defy such accusations, as does the Far East Suite. though its movements were pieced together over a couple of years. Ellington had long since excelled at composing masterpieces in miniature (for dancers and 78s), creating small works that alluded to whole worlds. As the late Ellington scholar Mark Tucker pointed out, Ellington's abundant creative energies formed a different kind of composition: his and Strayhorn's use of tone colors, textures, adventurous harmonies and rhythm gave their music timeless stature and seductive durability. Cohesion emerged through the gloriously familiar sound of Ellington's musicians: the music was a symbiotic venture between composer/arranger and performer/improviser/interpreter.

The recording of the Far Kast Suite in 1966 was blessed with the presence of Cootie Williams and Lawrence Brown, who had rejoined the band in the '60s, and with the reed section—Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton. Russell Procope, Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney—who had been together since 1953 (and some far longer). As featured soloists Brown, Gonsalves, Carney, Hamilton and Hodges bring Ellington's and Strayhorn’s impressions of Indo-Eurasian scales, motifs and oriental modal riffs back home, swinging. The alternate takes, newly discovered by reissue producer Barry Feldman, are indeed a bonus: there are no new musical revelations, simply some slightly different solos and emphases in dynamics, inner voices and rhythms. The bonus lies in the prolonged pleasure of listening to this music.

Early in 1964, while Ellington's honors and accolades piled up and offers kept coming. Billy Strayhorn was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the esophagus. A year later, Stravhorn could no longer travel with the band and his ability to keep working as creatively and intensely as ever indeed diminished. Ellington) was in constant touch with him and needed him, and Stravhorn did contribute arrangements for the hand's pop-oriented recording commitments (Ellington ‘65, Ellington '66, Mary Poppins), and helped Duke with In The Beginning, God (the first movement for the First Sacred Concert).

Isfahan, Agra, and Bluebird of Delhi were among the last compositions Billy Strayhorn wrote for the Ellington Orchestra (his very last, The Intimacy of the Blues and Blood Count, were written a few months before his death on May 31, 1967). Jimmy Hamilton plays the mynah bird that teases and taunts, and Johnny Hodges's alto on Isfahan pertectly expresses the poetic beauty of the ancient Persian city where "they give you poems instead of flowers."

the three-movement suite The Golden Broom And The Green Apple (premiered in july 1965 by the New York Philharmonic with Ellington conducting), the suite La Plus Belle Africaine (july 1966), the first Concert of Sacred Music (september 1965), the Second Sacred Concert (january 1968) and the third Concert of Sacred Music (october 1973), that were three colossal compositions for gospel choirs, jazz band and dancers, the Latin American Suite (premiered in september 1968), the ballet The River (may 1970), the six-movement The Queen's Suite (february 1959), perhaps his best suite, the New Orleans Suite (april 1970) and the opera comique Queenie Pie (unfinished in 1974). He was trying to give a more organic structure to his genius. In the process, he invented the future of jazz.

Money Jungle (september 1962) was recorded by the stellar trio of Duke Ellington (piano), Charles Mingus (bass) and Max Roach (drums).

Ellington died in may 1974.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Rosa Borgonovi)

L’era dello “swing” e delle big band fu dominata artisticamente dall’orchestra di Edward “Duke” Ellington (1899 - 1974), il primo grande compositore e arrangiatore della musica jazz e uno tra i più prolifici in tutta la storia della musica. Pianista di Washington, cresciuto in una famiglia appartenente alla classe media che si trasferì a New York nel 1923, inizialmente dimostrò le sue abilità come compositore con i Washingtonians , che includevano il batterista William “Sonny” Greer. Tra le canzoni eseguite dalla band: Choo Choo (novembre 1924), una novità che imitava il suono di un treno; East St Louis Toodle-Oo (novembre 1926), originariamente attribuita alla Kentucky Club Orchestra e sua prima maggiore dichiarazione artistica, nonché manifesto della sfacciata esuberanza del trombonista Joe Nanton; New Orleans Low-Down (Febbraio 1927), anche questa attribuita alla Kentucky Club Orchestra, con un tipico contrasto leggero-pesante tra le due trombe; Black and Tan Fantasy (aprile 1927), una fantasia metafisica che finiva con una marcia funebre e che fu evidenziata (nella versione di ottobre) da un drammatico assolo di tromba; Washington Wobble (ottobre 1927), la prima registrazione attribuita alla Duke Ellington’s Orchestra; Creole Love Call (ottobre 1927), nella quale il cantato privo di un testo di Adelaide Hall, in sostanza, mostra agli strumenti come suonare (ricostruendo così la relazione primordiale tra voce blues e strumenti jazz); Harlem River Quiver (dicembre 1927) e, ancora, entrambe attribuite ai Washingtonians, Jubilee stomp (marzo 1928), con un nuovo solo di tromba epocale, e The Mooche (ottobre 1928), un altro stomp in stile Black and Tan Fantasy con la presenza del chitarrista blues Lonnie Johnson.

L’effetto wah-wah che Bubber Miley’s usava sulla tromba (originariamente un’imitazione del blues shouting di Mamie Smith, che egli stesso accompagnò nel 1921) si dimostrava essenziale come il piano di Ellington. Il suono ringhiante della sua tromba e del trombone di Joe Nanton dava alla band il fascino “selvaggio” e la coppia, insieme al suono primordiale della batteria di Sonny Greer, evocava la giungla africana, pertanto venne pubblicizzata come “jungle music”. Ma ben presto Ellington scacciò l’idea di essere una novità di scarso valore debuttando con i suoi pezzi archetipici dal mood impressionista: Misty Mornin’ (novembre 1928), Awful Sad (ottobre 1928) e Hot and Bothered (ottobre 1928). Infatti, anche il più superficiale e ballabile tra i pezzi di Ellington esibiva l’abilità di massimizzare teatralità e colore all’interno di una canzone di tre minuti che solo Jelly Roll Morton aveva padroneggiato fino a quel momento.

Tra il 1927 e il 1931 Ellington si esibì all’Harlem’s Cotton Club di fronte a un pubblico prevalentemente bianco. Questi spettacoli venivano occasionalmente mandati in onda in diretta e ciò permise al musicista di diventare una celebrità nazionale. Questo avvenne anche grazie al manager e produttore bianco Irving Mills, l’uomo che pubblicizzò la sua musica come “jungle” music, che gli procurò il contratto al “Cotton Club” e che si assicurò che gli spettacoli venissero trasmessi alla radio. Ellington sembrava capace di produrre canzoni come in una catena di montaggio: Doin’ the Voom Voom (gennaio 1929), Flamin’ Youth (gennaio 1929), Harlem Flat Blues (marzo 1929), attribuito alla Jungle Band ed evidenziato dall’assolo “parlante” di Nanton, The Dicty Glide (marzo 1929), Sweet Dreams of Love (giugno 1930), Sweet Jazz of Mine (giugno 1930), l’impudico stomp Old Man Blues (agosto 1930), What Good Am I Without You (novembre 1930), I’m so in Love with You (novembre 1930). L’intesa collettiva conquistata per la prima volta con Old Man Blues si cristallizzò con Rockin’ in Rhythm (gennaio 1931), Echoes in the Jungle (giugno 1931) e Mystery Song (giugno 1931). Questi pezzi erano l’ultimo chiodo sulla bara dell’improvvisazione collettiva di New Orleans, siccome erano scrupolosamente organizzati.

Quando l’impegno all’Harlem’s Cotton Club giunse al termine (1931), Ellington iniziò a mostrare la vera portata delle sue ambizioni: Creole Rhapsody, pubblicata in due versioni (una di sei minuti nel gennaio del 1931 e una di otto nel giugno dello stesso anno), che richiedevano più di un lato (il primo occupava entrambi i lati di un LP da dieci pollici, il secondo quelli di un dodici pollici); la suite di nove minuti Symphony in Black (ottobre 1934) e la splendida Reminiscing in Tempo (settembre 1935), di tredici minuti (forse il primo pezzo jazz minuziosamente composto) in origine registrato su quattro lati, era anche il pezzo jazz più lungo mai affidato a una registrazione, sfidando i limiti del mezzo (il 78 giri poteva contenere a malapena tre minuti di musica) ponendosi come l’equivalente jazz di un concerto di musica classica; i suoi temi melodici, invece, erano degni del più dotato dei cantautori del Tin Pan Alley, ma con allusioni atmosferiche e quasi filosofiche che richiamavano alla memoria la musica classica. Questi includono: Mood Indigo (dicembre 1930), nel quale vengono ribaltate le convenzioni del jazz, assegnando la parte più alta alla tromba, quella di mezzo al trombone e la più bassa al clarinetto; It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing (febbraio 1932), certificato di nascita della musica swing e prima hit principale con una cantante (Ivie Anderson nello scat senza un testo); Sophisticated Lady (febbraio 1933); Daybreak Express (dicembre 1933); Solitude (gennaio 1934) e In a Sentimental Mood (aprile 1935). L’atmosfera della band si doveva in buona parte al suono maestoso del sassofonista contralto Johnny Hodges (primo grande maestro dello strumento) e alle note lunghe del sassofonista baritono Harry Carney, che si erano uniti alla band nel 1928.

Il trombonista portoricano Juan Tizol, che era entrato nella band nel 1929, introdusse un elemento esotico in composizioni come Caravan (dicembre 1936), che fa debuttare ritmi afro-cubani nel contesto swing, A Gypsy Without a Song (giugno 1938) e Perdido (dicembre 1941). Ellington compose relativamente poche canzoni nella prima metà degli anni ’30 e molte di più alla fine del decennio. Non sorprende che i primi siano per lo più capolavori mentre gli ultimi siano prevalentemente “usa e getta”. In ogni caso, anche i classici degli ultimi anni di Ellington mostrano quando ampio fosse il suo ambito stilistico, spaziando da pezzi ballabili a melodie orecchiabili, da pezzi mood leggeri a meditazioni astratte. Alcuni esempi sono: il micro-concerto Clarinet Lament (febbraio 1936), conosciuto anche come Barney’s Concerto; l’ambizioso Crescendo in Blue (settembre 1937); il riflessivo Lost in Meditation (marzo 1938), intitolato originariamente Have a Heart, Prelude to a Kiss, da inserire tra le sue paradisiache melodie; Bragging in Brass (marzo 1938), un brano irrequieto che invece, nel complesso, faceva a meno della melodia; l’avvilente Ko-Ko (marzo 1940); Jack the Bear (marzo 1940) trascinata dal bassista Jimmy Blanton, che entrò nella band nel 1939 ma morì nel 1942, il più grande virtuoso dello strumento che trasformò il basso in un veicolo melodico; Cotton Trail (maggio 1940), un’altra melodia tortuosa con un cervellotico assolo del sassofonista tenore Ben Webster che era appena entrato nella band; Never No Lament (maggio 1940), uno strumentale più avanti adattato a un testo come Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; la vivace Harlem-Air Shaft (luglio 1940); Bojangles (maggio 1940), dedicata al ballerino di tip tap Bill Robinson; Sepia Panorama (luglio 1940), un micro-concerto immerso nel blues che sfoggia un Ellington, un Blanton e un Webster ai loro massimi livelli; Pitter Patter Panther (ottobre 1940), il duetto definitivo tra Blanton ed Ellington; i poemi sinfonici Dusk (maggio 1940) e Moon Mist (febbraio 1941); Take the “A” Train (gennaio 1941), composto dal pianista Billy Strayhorn che si era unito alla band nel 1939; I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good (giugno 1941), altro trampolino di lancio per il cantato scat di Ivie Anderson; Main Stem (giugno 1942), un’occasione per Hodges di esibire il suo talento; The ‘C’ Jam Blues (settembre 1941); I’m Beginning to See the Light (dicembre 1944); Happy Go Lucky Local (novembre 1946) e altri due esperimenti con voce, Transbluency (gennaio 1946) e On a Turquoise Cloud (dicembre 1947), il capolavoro privo di testo di Kay Davis.

Uscirono dalla band Williams nel 1940, Blanton nel 1941, Anderson nel 1942, Webster nel 1943, Tizol nel 1944, il suonatore di corno Rex Stewart (che era con lui dal 1934) nel 1945, Hodges e Greer nel 1951. L’ultima hit della sua band fu Satin Doll (aprile 1953). Fleurette Africane (settembre 1962), forse la sua ultima più importante melodia fu una collaborazione con Charles Mingus e Max Roach.

Evidentemente, il suo cuore e la sua mente non erano più nelle canzoni. Per incominciare, il nuovo formato del trentatré giri gli permise di pensare ai pezzi in modo diverso. Masterpieces by Ellington (dicembre 1950) conteneva una versione di quindi minuti di Mood Indigo che suonava come un manifesto tardivo della sua visione complessiva dell’orchestra come un unico grande strumento, lo strumento che lui suonava. Secondo, lui era affascinato dalla sfida di creare una struttura estesa per la musica jazz. Aveva già in attivo Echoes of Harlem (dicembre 1936), meglio conosciuto come Concerto For Cootie, apparentemente una vetrina per la tromba di Cootie Williams (che aveva sostituito Miley nel 1929), la suite orchestrale in tre movimenti Black Brown and Beige (presentata per la prima volta nel 1943), un compendio musicale dell’odissea degli afroamericani, le tre suite impressioniste Perfume Suite (dicembre 1944), Deep South Suite (novembre 1946) e Liberian Suite (dicembre 1947), Jam-A-Ditty (gennaio 1946), in apparenza un “concerto per quattro corni jazz”, e i due melodiosi Jump for Joy (july 1941) e Beggar’s Holiday (dicembre 1946), un adattamento di “Beggar’s Opera” di John Gay. Da quel momento compose musica ancor più ambiziosa: il poema sinfonico di quattordici minuti Harlem (composto nel 1950), il profondo Piano Reflections (aprile 1953), la suite da dodici movimenti Such Sweet Thunder (agosto 1956), ispirata a Shakespeare e una collaborazione con Billy Strayhorn, il musicale A Drum Is a Woman (settembre 1956), un’altra vetta artistica, scritta in collaborazione con Billy Strayhorn e, lo spettacolo My People (agosto 1963), la Far East Suite (dicembre 1966), un’altra collaborazione con Strayhorn (una suite composta tra il 1963 e il 1966), la suite di tre movimenti The Golden Broom and the Green Apple (eseguita per la prima volta nel luglio del 1965 dalla New York Philharmonic con Ellington che conduceva), la suite La Plus Belle Africane (luglio 1966), la prima Concert of Sacred Music (settembre 1965) il Second Sacred Concert (gennaio 1968) e il terzo Concert of Sacred Music (ottobre 1973), che erano tre colossali composizioni per cori gospel, jazz band e ballerini, la Latin American Suite (eseguita per la prima volta nel settembre del 1968), il ballet The River (maggio 1970), The Queen’s Suite (febbraio 1959), di sei movimenti e forse la sua suite migliore, la New Orleans Suite (aprile 1970) e l’opéra comique Queenie Pie (incompiuta, nel 1974). Stava cercando di dare una struttura più organica al suo genio. Nel corso del processo, inventò il futuro del jazz.


Ellington morì nel maggio del 1974.

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