Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

The Legendary Duke Ellington

Hot trumpets and tinkling piano keys in Harlem Air Shaft suits my mood today. Maybe I’ll get more dreams.

Via Amazon

No fiddle recital until spring

My teacher, the amazing jazz violinist James Anderson, put off his studio’s fall recital until spring. Too many of his young students had try-outs and auditions to practice for. For us adult beginners, recitals are just a lark.

Meanwhile I still have LOCO, my mid-week gig as a contra-dance band sideman playing backup chords and Pentatonic scales for much better melody fiddlers, along with mandolinists and guitarists. It’s like a free lesson and it’s also fun. I’d forgotten how much I loved ensemble work from my high school and college days as a trumpet player.

For the spring I believe I’m going to work up at least one piece by Duke Ellington, probably Satin Doll, or maybe Prelude to A Kiss. Shoot, I might do both. When it comes to jazz I confess to liking these old ballads the best.

UPDATE:  I’m working up Prelude and a Klezmer piece, Der Yid in Yerushalayim (The Jew In Jerusalem), which includes a harmonic I’m struggling with.

MORE:  The spring recital was set for June 7 but James has canceled it in favor of a new, uncertain date in late June or mid-July. He got a June 7 gig he just could not refuse, playing in the orchestra for this famous, Grammy-winning choir.

Great dreams

I met Duke Ellington in a dream the other night in a remarkably small theater after his ensemble had concluded their 1927 composition Black & Tan Fantasy.

I tried to bum a cigarette from the great jazzman, but he refused. I thanked him for doing that. “It will make a better story,” I said. Then I woke up with a smile.

When I told my fiddle teacher about it, he wasn’t surprised. “You’ve been playing his music,” he said. Spooky instrument, the fiddle.

Ella’s and Duke’s Sophisticated Lady

The Ella Fitzgerald version of this 1932 Duke Ellington classic (lyrics by Mitchell Parish) keeps running through my head:

They say into your early life romance came
And in this heart of yours burned a flame
A flame that flickered one day and died away

Then, with disillusion deep in your eyes
You learned that fools in love soon grow wise
The years have changed you, somehow
I see you now

Smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow, nonchalant,
Diamonds shining, dancing, dining with some man in a restaurant
Is that all you really want?

No, sophisticated lady,
I know, you miss the love you lost long ago
And when nobody is nigh you cry

Quite a song. Especially the tune itself, the lyrics, and the way Ella does them. (Ignore the Julie Andrews video at the link above. The song hardly fits her. Just listen to Ella’s voice and the words.)

Out of touch, and likin’ it

Cobb links to a piece purporting to list the best rock albums of the past twenty years. I’m not familiar with a single one. Worse than Cobb who at least likes three. I should be ashamed, I suppose, but I’m not.

In fact, I am loading the new IPod Mrs. Charm gave me with the stuff I grew up with: Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. Next up: Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, etc. Stuff I can whistle. I’m too retro to live, maybe…

Harlem Air Shaft

No luck finding a YouTube of Duke’s band charting HAS, but this cover outfit has the talent and spirit.

UPDATE:  Good quote here, which I will lift:

"And take my Harlem Air Shaft. So much goes on in a Harlem air shaft. You get the full essence of Harlem in an air shaft. You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear the radio. An air shaft is one great big loudspeaker. You see your neighbor’s laundry. You hear the janitor’s dogs. The man upstairs’ aerial falls down and breaks your window. You smell coffee. A wonderful thing, that smell. An air shaft has got every contrast. One guy is cooking dried fish and rice, and another guy’s got a great big turkey. Guy-with-fish’s wife is a terrific cooker, but the guy’s wife with the turkey is doing a sad job. You hear people praying, fighting, snoring…I tried to put that in Air Shaft…." Duke Ellington, quoted by Dr. Ron Pen of the University of Kentucky.