Yes­ter­day I took you back to 1958 and that worked out pret­ty well, so let’s stay there. The ti­tle above is a lit­tle con­fus­ing; it refers to Duke Ellington’s awe­some al­bum Elling­ton Indi­gos, and its ti­tan­ic take on Wil­low Weep For Me; but pick­ing just one song is es­pe­cial­ly tough in this case.

Duke Ellington

We have to be a lit­tle care­ful here, be­cause Elling­ton Indi­gos has gone through a be­wil­der­ing se­ries of re­leas­es, with sig­nif­i­cant vari­a­tion in the song se­lec­tion, run­ning or­der, and ar­range­ments: There’s a good write-up at Jazz His­to­ry On­line. I have the CD, but the link above is to (I think) the orig­i­nal LP re­lease, be­cause you can stream it.

The al­bum ti­tle seems kind of ob­vi­ous in its in­ten­t: Other peo­ple on the scene played Blues, but Duke played Indigos, be­cause that was classier and more down­town. I prob­a­bly dis­agree, but hey, the mu­sic is great.

As with the Kingstons yes­ter­day, the mu­sic is dis­tinct­ly of an­oth­er time; the string sec­tions are a lit­tle too lush for mod­ern tastes and Duke’s piano-playing a lit­tle over-ornamented. None of which should both­er any­one, be­cause holy crap these guys can play, and Ellington’s ar­range­ments are one lay­er of ge­nius on top of an­oth­er on top of an­oth­er.

The open­ing num­ber Soli­tude prob­a­bly has the flashiest ar­range­men­t, with dif­fer­ent instrumental-voice com­bos slid­ing in and out to point out that this note is im­por­tant and that chord change is worth notic­ing. Mood Indi­go has a pu­ri­ty of line that makes me think of Bach. It opens with a long, con­tem­pla­tive blues con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Shorty Bak­er on trum­pet and Jim­my Woode on bass; then gets rich­er and richer. My sec­ond choice for today’s song would be Pre­lude to a Kiss be­cause it’s just so in­sane­ly dra­mat­ic; for a par­ty trick, play it as loud as you dare on the biggest speak­ers you can find. Ten­der­ly is the on­ly piece that’s even re­mote­ly up-tempo, the or­ches­tra sec­tions jok­ing with each oth­er; then they fall silent and the out­ro is played, you know, ten­der­ly. Danc­ing in the Dark has these weird un­char­ac­ter­is­tic fast chro­mat­ic runs by Elling­ton against the string sec­tion that aren’t like any­thing I’ve ev­er heard be­fore. And then Au­tumn Leaves, which is a sen­ti­men­tal song, is played for max­i­mum sen­ti­men­t, with (on the CD at least) an open­ing verse in (well sort of, any­how) French.

But Wil­low Weep For Me has to win; the ar­range­ment is fab­u­lous and that melody’s de­scend­ing line would draw tears from stone. In the course of writ­ing this I learned that it was writ­ten by Ann Ronell in 1932; who seems to have been an in­ter­est­ing per­son. More or less ev­ery jazz mu­si­cian you ev­er heard of has record­ed it, prob­a­bly be­cause that de­scend­ing line is gonna make any­one sound good.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. Wil­low on Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy. Live video wouldn’t help.

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May 22, 2018
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