Symphonic Duke
Symphonic Orchestra and Concert Jazz Band of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam

Symphonic Duke

CD | Challenge Records | 0608917339222 | CR 73392 | 05-14

€ 19.95 Add to cart
About the album

In 1943, Duke Ellington premiered his magnum opus Black, Brown and Beige in Carnegie Hall, New York’s highest temple of classical music. Much to his chagrin, classical music critics as well as jazz critics criticized the work, either for being not classical enough or for not complying with notions of what was considered jazz. It led Ellington to denounce musical categories for the rest of his life. “We stopped using the word jazz in 1943,” he answered, whenever asked to categorize his music. In his larger compositions he was not trying to write jazz in a classical mold, nor to fuse the two genres. Ellington wrote Ellington music, be it in three-and-a-half minute miniatures, or in extended works such as the many suites, films scores, ballets or “tone-parallels” he created. An example of the latter is A Tone Parallel to Harlem, written while he was sailing back to the US after his third tour in Europe. Reportedly, Harlem had been commissioned by Arturo Toscanini of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, but whether the work was ever performed by that symphony, and if so, who orchestrated it, remains vague. The only surviving score in Ellington’s hand is for his own orchestra (recorded in 1951 for Ellington Uptown)—the symphonic orchestration was made later by Luther Henderson. At any rate, Harlem is a success, a thirteen-minute tour through the “black capital of America,” with ever changing colors and sounds, musically connected by the opening interval in the growling trumpet that smartly articulates the name of New York’s most famous neighborhood.

Ellington, nicknamed Duke by his high school friends for his noble demeanor, had a special bond with the British Royal Family, which dated back to his visit 1933 to Britain. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Kent turned out to be knowledgeable fans of his orchestra, and the whole trip, with lavish parties and meetings with members of the nobility, made a lasting impression on Ellington. When he later met Queen Elizabeth II, he decided to write a suite for her. In an unprecedented gesture, Ellington had one single record pressed after he recorded the Queen’s Suite with his band, which he then sent to Buckingham Palace. Only after his death in 1974, the recording became available to the general public. The six-movement suite itself is a collection of attractive short pieces— one by Strayhorn—with fanciful titles, such as Le Sucrier Velours (a French bird) or Apes and Peacocks.

The composer himself is in all likelihood the night creature saluted in the final symphonic work on this recording. Ellington loved to work at night and was famous for his phone calls halfway to dawn, as his collaborator Billy Strayhorn used to call the wee hours of the night. Night Creature was composed for the Ellington orchestra and the Symphony of the Air, which was founded after the NBC orchestra had disbanded. In the work, Ellington tried “to make the symphony swing,” he said. Characteristically, the movements carry playful titles, Blind Bug, Stalking Monster and Dazzling Creature, that leave the listener happily guessing what exactly he had in mind while composing the piece. Nevertheless, the idiosyncratic concoction of groovy riffs, strange chords and overall joy, surely does swing.

Walter van de Leur

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“We stopped using the word jazz in 1943,” sagte Duke Ellington immer, wenn er danach gefragt wurde, seine Musik zu Kategorisieren. 1943 war auch das Jahr, in dem er sein Opus Magnum "Black, Brown and Beige" in New Yorks größten Tempel Klassischer Musik, der Carnegie Hall, uraufführte. Beide Seiten, sowohl die Kritik der Klassischen Musik als auch die des Jazz, kritisierten das Stück sei nicht klassisch oder eben nicht jazzg genug. Dies brachte Ellington zu der Aussage “We stopped using the word jazz” und damit einhergehend die Aufgabe des Schubladendenkens - für ihn. Er versuchte in seinen größeren Kompositionen nicht Jazz auf eine Klassische Art zu schreiben oder gar beide zu Verbinden. Ellinton komponierte Ellington-Musik. Mit seinem Orchester ging er neue Wege und vertrat den Ansatz: "to make the symphony swing". Und das gelang ihm auch, denn die idiosynkratische Erfindung von groovenden Riffs und fremdartigen Akkorden verbunden mit allumfassender Freude, das Alles ergibt Swing.


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