March 10, 2010

A Must See for Duke Fans

Jazz Icons: Duke Ellington Live in '58Duke Ellington: Live in ’58, part of the Jazz Icons video series, shows the Ellington band at the top of its game. The November 1958 concert at Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw was filmed for television and also recorded for radio broadcast. The result is a gem: a great little black-and-white jazz film, a bit grainy due to late Fifties technological limitations, but with robust sound. It fully captures the magic of an Ellington date.
     Things get off to a mellow start – the band looks tired from having been on the road for several weeks - with “Black and Tan Fantasy,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and a lovely version of “My Funny Valentine” with a solo by Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet. They certainly don’t sound tired. All the featured soloists throughout step up to microphones at the front of the stage. The filming moves from full orchestral shots to close-ups of the soloists.
     The tempo picks up with “Kinda Dukish” and “Jack the Bear,” with Jimmy Woode featured on bass, both classic Ellington tunes that had been around for years. Johnny Hodges steps forward for a really swinging rendition of “All of Me.” His beautiful solid tone is on full display. My favorite was probably “Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool” featuring Shorty Baker on trumpet in a rhythmic and bluesy back-and-forth with Ray Nance, who just nails it on violin. Excellence is the order of the day with all the soloists.
     The second set opens with “Hi-Fi-Fo-Fum,” which includes an extended drumming exhibition from Sam Woodyard. There’s also a lengthy (thirteen songs) “greatest hits” medley of Duke’s music, including old favorites like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” The highlight is probably the brief vocal by Nance on “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” which includes a little scat singing and he busts some moves too.
     The concert comes to a rousing conclusion with “Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue” with Paul Gonsalves doing the honors on the tenor sax. This was the same number that two years earlier at Newport caused the crowd of 7,000 people to go wild. On that occasion, the Duke kept Gonsalves up there for twenty-seven bluesy choruses. The Duke - always the consummate showman - was not one to let a good thing go, although he doesn’t carry things to quite such lengths in Amsterdam.
     Live in ‘58 is a chance to see Ellington and his band up close and putting on a great show. Highly recommended.

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