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The Jaywalker by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra

Music was Duke's mistress and this liaison lasted from the twenties until his death in 1974. The result was an output of over 1000 tunes and 1500 arrangements. He composed an eclectic mix of popular songs, jazz standards, movie scores, suites and sacred music while constantly on the road. The touring orchestra was his instrument and he wrote with his talented individual players in mind, stressing sound over sections.

Duke was a futurist. If a session did not have commercial possibilities he recorded it anyway. From this unreleased "Stockpile" comes "The Jaywalker" which showcases his 1966-67 orchestra. This score for an obscure British play,comprising tracks fourteen through twenty,represents Ellington and his orchestra at their best. The play may have never been performed. I doubt that Duke cared about that. It was the music that mattered. The drama was a religious allegory with a hero, "Mac," attempting to help people cross a heavily traveled road. This powerful score uses percussion, all the colors and rhythms of the orchestra and Duke's impressionistic piano punctuation to create the frenetic energy of traffic and brief interludes of peace. The brooding and beautiful composition "Mac" reappeared as "T.G.T.T." in the Second Sacred Concert.

The first six tracks of the CD come from a 1967 LA session - the first studio recording of these titles. It's a soloists' showcase. "The Shepherd" features Cootie Williams in an Ellington jungle blues, following Duke's eloquent piano intro. There's no doubt that Paul Gonsalves is up for the exciting "Up Jump" while Lawrence Brown lightly swings his way through "Rue Blue." You could guess the title " Chromatic Love Affair" from Harry Carney's treatment. "Salome" combines Latin and Middle Eastern influences with Cat Anderson riding high above. The session closes with Johnny Hodges and Strayhorn's "Blood Count" - meant for each other.

A 1967 NYC date makes up tracks eight to thirteen. These previously unrecorded titles are dramatic and varied. "Kixx" is percussion and piercing trumpet. "Eggo" radiates happiness as Duke has a piano conversation with the orchestra before Carney and Cootie come in. The intricate "Amta" follows the 'I'm Hip Too" interlude. More rhythm and brass on "Warr." The session closes with the sentimental " A Little Purple Flower."

You'll enjoy the dramatic " El Viti" with Cat Anderson and the closing bonus, "Tin Soldier." The latter is a swinger. It's a rehearsal. And the players are having a blast!

The late Karl Emil Knudsen, who founded Storyville Records in Denmark over 50 years ago, was also involved in this project. During the nineties he obtained rights from the Ellington estate to previously unreleased material including the "Stockpile." This has been the source of three CDs since 2001: Toga Brava Suite, The Duke in Munich and The Jaywalker. Through the dedication of Ellington and Knudsen we now have access to music which was new in the sixties and still fresh today.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
  • CD Title: The Jaywalker
  • Genre: Big Band / Swing
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Storyville
  • Rating: Five Stars
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