There’s no music I love more in the world than Duke Ellington’s.
When I was a kid, the New York Transit Museum had a commercial in heavy rotation on local TV that used “Take The A Train” and I remember being riveted by it. I should point out that Billy Strayhorn wrote this tune, not Ellington, but it became the Ellington Orchestra’s theme song for decades.
When I was in sixth grade I got totally obsessed with my folks’ CD of Duke’s Memories by Abdullah Ibrahim. It included a recording of a tune called “Way Way Back” that I listened to every day after school for I don’t know how many days in a row.
I didn’t get exposed to much Ellington after that until college. When I was a sophomore I went to hear some friends playing in an informal sextet in the campus center. They played “Mood Indigo” and though I had never heard it before, it felt like it had always been part of me. A couple of years after that I came under the sway of Andy Jaffe, then Amherst’s jazz professor and a devout Ellington worshiper. He didn’t resolve the mystery of why Ellington and Strayhorn had such a powerful grip on my emotional brain, but he did certainly expose me to a lot more of their music, in a much more rigorous analytic framework. I’ve been a fan, student and interpreter of Ellingtonia ever since.
My usual reaction when I love something is to remix it. So, here we go.
The Money Jungle Remix Project
I’m working on an album-length revisioning of Money Jungle, the trio album Duke did with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. This album is a pretty crazy one, a must-hear for jazz nerds.
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Take The 2-3 Train
Combines the intro to “A Train” with samples of Slick Rick, Britney Spears and M.I.A., along with synths I played on a video game controller.
The swinging violin is by Ray Nance, who also played the famous trumpet solo on the original recording of “A Train.”
“Morning Mood” and “Lay-By” come from the amazing Three Suites album. The first suite is Ellington and Strayhorn’s arrangement of the Nutcracker, which to my ears is a substantial improvement over the original.
The second suite, as mentioned above is Peer Gynt, less known but also pretty rad.
The third suite was inspired by John Steinbeck’s book Sweet Thursday.
I’ve never read the book, but it inspired four devastating Ellington/Strayhorn tunes, some of their best late-period work, including the Ray Nance feature “Lay-By.” The band kills it on the recording, too.
Sam Woodyard. Sam Woodyard. Sam Woodyard. Sam Woodyard. Sam Woodyard!
I don’t agree with Stanley Crouch on a lot of jazz-related issues, but I agree with him on that one.