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July / August 2010
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Thursday, 08 July 2010

Worth a Closer Look

Duke Ellington
(Official site)

Cornell University 1948

An Interview with Whitney Balliett

Whitney Balliet on CAM
(Page 36, large PDF)

CD release of Ellington concert at Cornell

Duke Ellington
Swingin' sound: Duke Ellington (at the piano) and his band, circa 1948

On a Friday night in December 1948, the bus carrying Duke Ellington and his orchestra pulled up to Bailey Hall and unloaded the musicians for one of the dozens of concerts they would play that year. Many jazz aficionados consider the Forties to be the Duke's greatest decade, and the band he led that night was studded with stars like saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, trumpeter/violinist Ray Nance, trombonist Tyree Glenn, and drummer Sonny Greer. Because of a dispute between the musicians' union and the record companies, they made no studio recordings that year—but, lucky for us, Ellington had his tape recorder running that night. Now the entire concert— more than 130 minutes of peerless music and elegant Ellington commentary—is available on a Nimbus Records two-CD set, Duke Ellington: Cornell University 1948.

What a show it was . . . Interspersed between such Ellingtonian staples as "Creole Love Call" and "Take the 'A' Train" (reworked here as "Manhattan Murals") were striking new compositions like "Lady of the Lavender Mist," "The Tatooed Bride," and "Fantazm." The night was capped with a seamless medley that merged nine of the Duke's greatest hits and an encore of "Limehouse Blues" featuring Tyree Glenn on his "electrical appliance," a vibraphone.

Perched on one of those wooden seats and absorbing every note was a student named Whitney Balliett '49, BA '51, who would pen a review of the show for the Daily Sun—and go on to become a long-time contributor to the New Yorker and one of the most celebrated jazz critics of his time. The concert, he wrote, was distinguished by "the freshness, inspiration, and inimitable polish of master musicians playing music they love that has earned the Duke a permanent niche in the history of music."

1942 Video of “C Jam Blues” (3:05)

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Last Updated ( Friday, 09 July 2010 )