HRH and I enjoyed a nice 90 minutes worth of cycling this evening after work and we’re sitting down now to a spaghetti dinner courtesy of mommy. And, of course, what’s downtime without a little Jazz Boner vinyl, so we’re currently spinning the ‘New Orleans Suite‘ by Duke Ellington.
This was the last of my Ellington finds from The Bop Shop in Rochester.
Told ya it was a good haul!
This late-period Ellington album (1970) is perhaps most notable for including altoist Johnny Hodges’ final recordings. In fact, Hodges was supposed to record his first soprano solo in nearly 30 years on ‘Portrait of Sidney Bechet‘, but he passed away before the second session.
The set consists of the five-song ‘New Orleans Suite‘ plus tributes to Wellman Braud, Bechet (tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves took Hodges’ place as its soloist), Louis Armstrong (a feature for trumpeter Cootie Williams), and Mahalia Jackson. Interesting if not essential music with a few memorable themes being the main reason to acquire this release.
1970 was an exceptionally busy year for Duke Ellington. In January he toured the Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In April he premiered ‘The New Orleans Suite‘ in New Orleans. On April 27th, he records five of the songs and Johnny Hodges died on May 11th. The portraits here were recorded on May 13th, and Ellington began recording ‘The River‘ on May 25th. On May 28th, Ellington records with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra then on June 3rd he records more for ‘The River‘ with the recording continuing on June 8th and June 15th. ‘The Ballet‘ premiered on June 25th, before he starts a tour of Europe (which lasts until the middle of August).
On September 18th, he premiers the ‘Afro Eurasian Eclipse‘ at Monterey. And so on. So yeah… as stated above, ‘The New Orleans Suite‘ was recorded at two separate sessions. ‘Blues for New Orleans‘, ‘Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies‘, ‘Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta‘, ‘Second Line‘, ‘Aristocracy a la Jean LaFitte‘ were recorded on April 27th (Johnny Hodges last recording session) with the rest being accomplished on the 25th of May.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Despite the albums title, don’t expect a bunch of Dixieland knockoffs. As usual, the result is pure and original Ellington. Every song is a highlight, but ‘Portrait of Wellman Braud‘, a blues in 12/8 with the melody in the bass, could just as appropriately be named ‘Portrait of Charles Mingus‘ and shows one instance when Duke might have been inspired by Mingus (instead of the other way around). This is likely one of my favorite Ellington tunes ever. ‘Blues for New Orleans‘ is also pretty amazing with the doomed Hodges recording his last blues, trading choruses with organist Wild Bill Davis and ‘Portrait of Mahalia Jackson‘ is not to be missed either.
So while this might be the last of my new Ellington albums, it’s certainly not the end of my fascination with the Duke. Having said that, I’ll be looking forward to my next return to The Bop Shop in the future knowing that they still have dozens and dozens of other Ellington albums that I’m now salivating to hear.