Duke Ellington: A Guide to the Stockpile, Part I (1974-1986)

[Originally published at my defunct blog Honey for the Bears on 1 May 2012]

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In his later years Duke Ellington was one hell of a productive musician. Beyond the many records he made each year for a variety of commercial labels, he found it necessary to privately finance additional recording sessions in the studio. As such, he left behind an enormous ‘stockpile’ of unreleased tapes. Since Duke’s death in 1974 numerous albums have been drawn from this archive. And don’t imagine these are just curiosities. Many of the stockpile recordings are essential to a full appreciation of jazz’s greatest composer. Some tracks are the only record of a unique Duke Ellington composition.

That said, many of the stockpile tracks are either new versions of Ellington standards or impromptu blues numbers, and it’s difficult to determine what portion of this material Duke thought worthy of release. He seemed to enjoy using the studio as a venue to try out new ideas and works-in-progress. Many of the tunes and arrangements were never again revisited.

The posthumous collections were compiled pretty haphazardly. This is the first of a three-part listener’s guide to the Stockpile releases. It doesn’t attempt to cover the gazillion posthumously released live recordings.

PART 1: 1974-1986

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The Pianist (1966, 1970; released Fantasy, 1974). A good set of trio performances – the best kind of introduction to Ellington’s mastery of the piano. Not to be confused with the 2005 Storeyville CD The Piano Player (see Part III). The accompanists are either John Lamb (bass) and Sam Woodyard (drums) or Paul Kondziela (bass) and Rufus Jones (drums). The tunes are mostly new pieces.

— — — — —

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Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971; released Fantasy, 1975). One of three suites recorded in the first half of 1971 but unreleased in Ellington’s lifetime (the others are the Goutelas and Togo Brava suites). Afro-Eurasian Eclipse is a superb pseudo-ethnomusicological collection that verges on fusion. Duke never stopped exploring. The excuse for this suite is Marshall McLuhan’s observation that “the whole world is going Oriental”. ‘Chinoiserie’ rocks hard with a Harold Ashby solo. ‘Didjeridoo’ is a rock groove based around a Harry Carney baritone sax riff and Duke’s piano. Incidently, the LP cover illustration is taken from J. Martin Miller’s Twentieth Century Atlas (1904 edition).

— — — — —

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The Ellington Suites (1959, 1971, 1972; released Pablo, 1976). This contains The Queen’s Suite, Ellington and Strayhorn’s tribute to Elizabeth II, which was famously pressed as a lone copy for Her Majesty. And we also have two later compositions, The UWIS (University of Wisconsin) Suite and The Goutelas Suite. Goutelas has a tender movement called ‘Something’.

N.B. – ‘Gogo’ and ‘Gigi’, two additional, newly completed Goutelas movements based on Duke’s unfinished sketches, are featured on the Laurent Mignard Duke Orchestra’s album Ellington French Touch (Juste une Trace/Sony, 2012). Mignard also includes with the suite a new recording of ‘Goof’, which was first released on the stockpile collection Up In Duke’s Workshop (1979). (The unreliable works list in Ellington’s autobiography, Music is My Mistress (1973), strangely lists these three ‘G’ movements as constituting the entire Goutelas rather than the six included on the 1976 LP. Who knows?).

My review of Ellington French Touch is at PopMatters.com.

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Jazz Violin Session (1963; released Atlantic, 1976). Not technically from the stockpile, but from the Reprise vault. Ellington recorded this session one busy winter evening at Barclay Studios in Paris with a small band fronted by Stephane Grappelli, Svend Asmussen, and Ray Nance.

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Duke Ellington 1899-1974 aka The Famous 5-LP Box (1959-1971; released M.F. Productions, 1977). A kind of Ur-compilation of unreleased studio and live tracks that has been reissued in various shorter configurations on budget labels ever since. This is the gist: a dozen New York studio recordings from May-July 1962, with close to thirty mostly 1960s live tracks from Sweden. None of the compositions here are exclusive, although Mercer Ellington’s ‘Taffy Twist’ comes close (another performance appears on an Ellington-Della Reese album). Session details here.

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The Intimate Ellington (1969-71; released Pablo, 1977). Hear Duke sing (sort of) ‘Moon Maiden’. ‘Edward the First’ and ‘Edward the Second’ are both serious piano trio blues numbers. ‘Symphonette’ (aka ‘Sugar Hill Penthouse’) is an extract from 1943′s large-scale work Black, Brown & Beige.

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Up In Duke’s Workshop (1969-72; released Pablo, 1979). ‘Neo-Creole’ is an updated version of ‘Creole Rhapsody’ from 1931; the arrangement was featured in Ellington’s unreleased score for the forgotten movie Change of Mind (1969). I like this record. Good blues. And Norman Granz was really getting his money’s worth out of that photo session, wasn’t he?

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Unknown Session (July 14, 1960; released Columbia, 1979). Once again, not really a stockpile recording; this is a septet session from the Columbia Vault.

— — — — —

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The Girl’s Suite and the Perfume Suite (1957, 1961; released Columbia, 1982). Another Columbia vault item. Never released on CD. The Girl’s [sic] Suite is a ten-movement premiere release recorded September 1961. The Perfume Suite is a December 1957 remake of the 1945 work.

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Featuring Paul Gonsalves (May 1962; released Fantasy, 1984). The hero of Newport ’56 gets his own set of solos. There’s a decent version of the ‘Paris Blues’ theme. I guess this one is for Gonsalves fans. I’m more ambivalent. I like Gonsalves when he plays it slow and sensuous. For more of same see The Private Collection Vol 3 in Part II.

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Duke 56/62 volumes 1, 2, & 3. (1956-62; released CBS France, 1984). This is an obscure motherlode. These 5 LPs chronicle studio outtakes and alternative takes from the six year period Ellington was signed to Columbia Records. Once again, technically this is not part of the private stockpile but from the Columbia vault. By now many of these tracks have been re-released as bonus tracks on Sony CD reissues of the Columbia LPs, but there are still a number of tracks exclusive to this out-of-print set. There is a three movement Asphalt Jungle Suite (soundtrack for a short-lived 1961 TV show), alternate recordings of the Paris Blues music, even a version of ‘Jingle Bells’. The single LP third volume is devoted to unreleased vocalist sessions with Rosemary Clooney, Ozzie Bailey, Johnny Ray, etc.

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Best of and New Mood Indigo (1957-58, 1962-66; Collectables Jazz Classics, 2001) A rather stupidly titled single CD, but the best way to get two CBS LPs from 1985. The first seven tracks are 1957-58 small group recordings first collected as Happy Reunion (aka The Best Of Duke Ellington). Tracks 8-18 are from 1962-66, including some otherwise unreleased compositions and small group performances with Chick Corea.

— — — — —

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The Intimacy of the Blues (1967, 1970; released Fantasy, 1986): Small band sessions, including 1967’s Combo Suite (tracks 1-6). Organist Wild Bill Davis is on the 1970 tracks.

To be continued….

Contrappasso Double Feature

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It gives me great pleasure to announce two new issues of Contrappasso, a journal of international writing I founded with Theodore Ell in 2012.

The special issue Writers at the Movies, which I co-edited with Noel King, is a collection of new and previously published essays, fiction, poetry, and interviews. The contributors are Sarah Berry, Michael Eaton, Jon Lewis, Barry Gifford, Michael Atkinson, Luc Sante, R. Zamora Linmark, Richard Lowenstein, Anthony May, Clive Sinclair, James Franco, and Richard Hugo. There are interviews with Emmanuel Mouret, Richard Misek, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Scott Simmon.

Contrappasso #8 is the second half of this double feature. Co-editor Theodore Ell and I have gathered another world-class selection of fiction, poetry, and interviews. There is short fiction by Andrea Pasion-Flores (Philippines), Rick DeMarinis and Kent Harrington (USA), and the first English translation of ‘Ester Primavera’, a classic story by Argentinean modernist Roberto Arlt (superbly translated by Lucas Lyndes). Noel King talks to Filipino author F. H. Batacan with some comments by Andrea Pasion-Flores. And we have poetry by Nicaragua’s Blanca Castellón (translated by New Zealand’s Roger Hickin), Spain’s Alicia Aza (translated by J. Kates), China’s Lu Ye and Geng Xiang (translated by Ouyang Yu), New Zealand’s Kerrin P. Sharpe and Mary Macpherson, the UK’s Bill Adams and Richard Berengarten, the USA’s Floyd Salas and J. Kates, and Australia’s Elias Greig, Philip Hammial, Travis McKenna, Sascha Morrell, Tony Page, Sarah Rice, Frank Russo, Page Sinclair, Alex Skovron, Paolo Totaro, Lyn Vellins, Luke Whitington – and one of the last poems by the late, much-missed Morris Lurie.

The Sydney launch is on April 10, 2015, at the Stanley Street Gallery in Darlinghurst.

For more information, see www.contrappasso.com

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Interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum

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My brief interview with American film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum appears in the new ‘Writers at the Movies’ issue of Contrappasso Magazine, which I co-edited with Noel King. It also appears online at www.jonathanrosenbaum.net

Rosenbaum is one of the most respected film critics in the United States. His many books include Moving Places: A Life in the Movies (1980/1995), Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (1995), Movies as Politics (1997), Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films You See (2000), Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (2004), and Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinéphilia: Film Culture in Transition (2010).

Rosenbaum has also been a lifelong champion of Orson Welles. Many of his writings on Welles are collected in Discovering Orson Welles (2007). He also edited and annotated This Is Orson Welles (1992/1998), an assembly of the legendary Peter Bogdanovich-Orson Welles interviews.

This brief conversation, an update on Rosenbaum’s recent activities, was conducted by email in early 2015 for Contrappasso.

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[The cover photo of Contrappasso: Writers at the Movies is ‘Popcorn’ by Vegan Feast Catering @ Flickr. Used under CC / Altered from original.]

Chickens Never Learn

Cover by Luci Everett

My latest short story ‘Chickens Never Learn’ – a bona fide adventure story – appears in Crime Factory #17. I’m getting to be a regular contributor – this makes three issues in a row.

The story begins:

It started in Cervecería Pepe at Calle 60 x 67 in that devilish Yucatán city of Mérida. I was drinking alone in the green gloom of the bar on a hot and dead afternoon. I didn’t have the centavos for the beer but I knew Pepe would give me a little credit.

There’d been a lot of afternoons like this.

I was stuck in Mexico.

I was broke.

I was desperate to raise a stake to cross the Guatemalan border to find the Cotzumalhuapa Mask. In those days I was obsessed with jade antiquities. I make no apologies.

Every surface in Pepe’s dive was coated in sticky dust. There were two tiny windows throwing a little light onto the olive green walls, but not enough to let you see many details. I once tried to play the piano but it was missing its strings – I guess it supplied the town’s garrotters. A few winos were snoring under the tables in back. Sitting at the other end of the bar was an English tourist in a Panama. He was browsing a Spanish phrase book. He’d been hanging around. Pepe stood behind the bar polishing shot glasses with a dirty cloth.

An American kid came in. He was maybe twenty-five years old and five feet tall. He smelled like he’d been cohabitating with a sow for a week. He poked my arm and said:

“Will you stick a fellow American for a drink?”

Pepe started to laugh from way down in his gut. He knew me well. And he liked to laugh.

The yank repeated his question.

“Do I look like I’m handing out pesos?” I said. “Anyway, I’m not a bloody yank. I’m Australian.”

[CONTINUED]

You can buy the handsome print edition of Crime Factory HERE and get the Kindle version as a free extra. Or go to Crime Factory for the PDF and Kindle editions. The Kindle version is also for sale at Amazon.com.

Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan, Part II: The Safe House

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Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan

Part II: The Safehouse

Part I of this article at Bright Lights Film Journal told the story of how Orson Welles, while directing his legendary and never-finished Other Side of the Wind, took time out in early 1975 to accept a leading role in an independent conspiracy thriller called Sirhan Sirhan or RFK Must Die. The film, scripted by Donald Freed and to be produced by Ananke Productions, was intended to exonerate the Palestinian refugee Sirhan Sirhan as the lone assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. In fact, it dramatized Sirhan’s duping by a network of intelligence “programmers.” Welles was asked to play the chief conspirator, Dr. William A. Must Jr.

Welles’ co-stars would have been Sal Mineo (as Sirhan) and football legend Jim Brown. The project should have been an easy $125,000 paycheck for Welles, but it didn’t turn out that way. He quickly became the project’s central creative figure. He demanded contractually assured approval of director, script, and cast, completely rewrote the screenplay, and installed his Yugoslavian lover and collaborator Oja Kodar in a starring role.

Part II continues the story in early July 1975. Welles’s reluctance to sign his contract has put the project in doubt. Welles leaves Hollywood for Europe.

Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan, Part I: The Conspirators

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Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan

2015 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Orson Welles. Despite numerous biographies and critical studies, we are still piecing together the full story of his wild and complicated career, distinguishing the facts from the myths – many of which he invented himself.

This two-part article at Bright Lights Film Journal draws on extensive archival research and new interviews to explore a fascinating lost episode from 1975 during the making of Welles’s legendary Other Side of the Wind. It is the history of a Welles project that was never made – a politically radical conspiracy thriller about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy – and also a tale from the fringes of Hollywood in a transformative era.

Here is Part I: The Conspirators

Comic Melancholy: A Brief Chat with Emmanuel Mouret

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Jasmine Trinca and Joey Starr in Emmanuel Mouret’s Une Autre Vie (Another Life, 2013).

My new interview with French writer-director-actor Emmanuel Mouret is online at Bright Lights Film Journal.

Mouret has written and directed seven feature films. He is best known for his romantic comedies Changement d’adresse (Change of Address, 2006), Un baiser s’il vous plaît (Shall We Kiss?, 2007), Fais-moi plaisir! (Please, Please Me!, 2009) and the ensemble film L’art d’aimer (The Art of Love, 2011). His most recent film is Une Autre Vie (Another Life, 2013).

The interview was conducted in French with the assistance of Arthur Chaslot. The English text as it appears at BLFJ was translated by Theodore Ell.