Sunday, October 10, 2010

The King of American Jazz

While browsing through Amazon a few days ago, I came across a DVD title I was unfamiliar with. The release, Duke Ellington et son orchestre, had no accompanying information – date of recording, personnel, location, nothing. Since I didn’t want to buy a pig in a poke, I decided to Google the title. The full title turned out to be Le Roi du Jazz Americain – Duke Ellington et son Orchestre (The King of American Jazz – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra). Lo and behold, the source of the recording was the National Archives and Records Administration. Best of all, the video is in the public domain and can be downloaded legally and for FREE! Thanks, Uncle Sam! [There are other interesting videos on the site - Jack Teagarden with Hoagy Carmichael, Bobby Hackett, John Scofield, a cartoon featuring the voice of Dizzy Gillespie – (The Hole).]

In September of 1963, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra embarked on a goodwill tour of the Middle East sponsored by the US State Department. The stops included Damascus, Amman, Kabul, New Delhi and Tehran. Ellington was out of commission for some of the dates due to hospitalization for a virus.

Fortunately, Ellington is back by the time of this recording. The source of this film might be from a concert on November 14, 1963 in Khuld Hall, Baghdad, Iraq. According to Ken Vail’s Ellington diary book “This concert is televised live.” It definitely seems to be from a television broadcast, since Ellington is periodically checking to see if he needs to insert a break in the proceedings. A few days later, the tour was canceled upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The sound and video have a few blemishes here and there, but overall, it’s a great concert. Cootie Williams is an audience favorite with his showcase Tutti for Cootie. Billy Strayhorn gets a solo spot on his famous composition Lush Life and then takes things out with Take the “A” Train.

The songs are: Afro-Bossa; Stompin' at the Savoy; Guitar Amour; Perdido; Honeysuckle Rose; Tutti for Cootie; Kinda Dukish /Rockin' in Rhythm; I Got It Bad; Things Ain't What They Used To Be; The Eighth Veil; Hits Medley [Satin Doll, Solitude, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Mood Indigo, I'm Beginning To See the Light, Sophisticated Lady, Caravan, Do Nothin’ 'Till You Hear from Me, I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart & Don't Get Around Much Anymore]; Diminuendo in Blue/Blow by Blow; Lush Life; Take the "A" Train .

The personnel is: Cootie Williams, Rolf Ericson, Herbie Jones, Cat Anderson – trumpets, Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, Buster Cooper – trombones; Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney – reeds; Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn – piano; Ernie Shepard –bass; Sam Woodyard – drums.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Harry Carney at 100

Harry Howell Carney was born on April 1, 1910 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Earlier, I had written about how Benny Goodman inspired me to take up the clarinet. Not too long afterwards, my musical horizons expanded to include the great Duke Ellington. There were a lot of unique sounds in the band, but the one that stood out most for me was the deep baritone saxophone sound of Harry Carney.

Carney was an integral part of the Ellington sound, not only as a tonal foundation, but also as a nearly constant presence. He joined the band at age 16 in 1926 and was there until 1974. He was heavily featured, and even when he wasn’t, you knew he was there. One musician has remarked that Ellington had two sax sections – Harry Carney and the other guys.

Last year, I blogged about La Plus Belle Africaine. This version features Victor Gaskin - bass, Russell Procope –clarinet, Rufus Jones –drums, and the birthday boy.

When our high school jazz band needed a baritone sax player, I jumped at the opportunity. (At the time, the instrument and I were about the same size, so it should have been carrying me instead of vice versa.) I played it up until I graduated from college in 1981 .

Harry Carney was one of the first jazz musicians to use circular breathing. Rahsaan Roland Kirk learned it from him and it became one of his trademark concepts. (In a sense, Carney taught me circular breathing, too. The night Ellington died, they showed a video of him holding a long note in a concert performance of Sophisticated Lady. Until I had a visual image of what was going on, I couldn’t get the concept down.) This isn’t the same performance I saw back then, but it is of about the same vintage.

I never got a chance to see Ellington in person and was crushed when he passed away in May of 1974. When I heard that his son Mercer was continuing the band, I consoled myself with the thought that I could see Harry Carney. I’ll never forget one of my bandmates telling me that “that saxophone player you like” died; it was less than 5 months after Ellington. I guess he didn’t think I believe him, so he presented me with the newspaper clipping.
Happy 100th Birthday to Harry Carney!