Take The A Train Duke Ellington Essay

Take The A Train Duke Ellington Essay-7
Unlike Armstrong, he had a platonic idea of the kind of music he wanted to make, and of the kind of musician he wanted to be, which preceded his actually making any.Early Ellington oscillates uneasily between a kind of “primitivist” growling and stuttering, and tepid impressionistic effects, as in “Creole Love Call.” But the idea that possessed him—rhythmic adventure, unafraid of seeming too “African”; lyric embroidery, unashamed of emotional delicacy—was powerful, and capable of being realized in a more complete way. Well before Ellington made his permanent music, he was the man even people who didn’t like jazz were allowed to like.

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Over the years, Ellington cultivated those kinds of players until, with the 1940 band, he achieved something extraordinary—an all-star band that played together, soloed luminously, and never sounded competitive.

As critics still remark in proper wonder, at least five of the musicians—Jimmy Blanton, on bass, Ben Webster, on tenor sax, Johnny Hodges, on alto sax, Harry Carney, on baritone sax, and Tricky Sam Nanton, on the trombone—are in the running for the very best ever to have picked up their instrument.

historian John Lukacs, in “A Thread of Years” (1998), his collection of vignettes from across the twentieth century, imagines a few jazz fans listening to a cocktail pianist in New York in 1929.

Then he talks about how this music—melodic swing at the beautiful, blurred boundary of jazz and popular song—defined a state of mind before the Second World War.

The individual players he employed weren’t up-to-date urban players but, often, less sophisticated New Orleans musicians, whose great gift was a distinctly human tone, often achieved with the use of homemade mutes and plungers.

They never suffered from the homogenized, driving tone of the white bands.The typical answer used to be that he was really a master composer on the European model, all score paper and seclusion and suites. Ellington’s best music turns out to be the crystallized collective improvisation of an exceptionally ornery group of musical malcontents.To explain it all, we seem to need new categories of value, and another kind of meditation on what originality is. His first was “Pops,” an excellent volume on Louis Armstrong, which he turned into an even better play, “Satchmo at the Waldorf.” Teachout inhabits right-leaning places where riff-loving men seldom wander, but his writing seems all the better for his distance from liberal piety; some of the best jazz criticism has always come from less than liberal precincts, as with the apolitical Whitney Balliett and the Tory Philip Larkin.Teachout reveals that Ellington was rarely the sole composer of the music associated with his name.Nearly all his hit songs, Teachout explains, “were collaborations with band members who did not always receive credit—or royalties—when the songs were recorded and published.” It’s long been known by fans that many of the most famous “Ellington” numbers are really the arranger Billy Strayhorn’s, including “Take the A Train” and “Chelsea Bridge,” and that the valve trombonist Juan Tizol wrote most of “Caravan.” But much of “Mood Indigo” was Barney Bigard’s, while “Never No Lament” (which became the hit “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”), “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” began as Johnny Hodges riffs and then became songs.It be true that Herman Mankiewicz wrote most of “Citizen Kane,” scene by scene and even shot by shot.What is certainly true is that nothing else that survives of Mankiewicz’s is remotely as good as “Citizen Kane.” That’s because he was writing “Citizen Kane” for Orson Welles.Yet a residue of disappointment clings to these pages: Ellington was an elegant man but not a very nice one, Teachout concludes, exploiting the musicians he gathered and held so close.He used his musicians (not to mention his women) often quite coldly, and his romantic-seeming life was really one long cloud of shimmering misdirection.Dignity demanded that he never take off his dinner jacket, and then it became a straitjacket.As Balliett pointed out, Ellington knew from the beginning that he needed a , more even than a beat or a style.


Comments Take The A Train Duke Ellington Essay

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