Duke Ellington – The Ellington Suites

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Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Duke Ellington – The Ellington Suites

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

An A++ side one, an A+++ side two and quiet vinyl throughout make this copy an Ellington LP that is sure to impress! Side one of this album features a piece called “The Queen’s Suite” that was recorded in 1959. On this A++ side, you get stunningly Tubey Magical late ’50s jazz sound — something that’s almost impossible to come by on any recording made after that.

1976 Grammy Award Winner for Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band.

More Duke Ellington

I know of no other Pablo record with sound so rich, full and warm. This one destroyed a big stack of copies we’d been collecting for years in order to do this shootout. Unless you have a good sized batch, ten or more, you will have a tough time finding one with sound anywhere near this amazing.

The Queen’s Suite, which takes up side one, was recorded in 1959 and sounds amazing. As you can imagine, this has one of the best Ellington bands ever assembled, with players like Clark Terry, Paul Gonzalves, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges… the list of jazz giants goes on and on. If you enjoy the classic albums by Mingus on Atlantic, you’re gonna love this work. The sound is excellent as well, earning an A++ grade — open, spacious and transparent with tight bass and an extended top end.

Side two has material performed by Ellington in the early ’70s, which though not as good musically, is still very enjoyable. On this copy, it sounds amazing, earning an A+++ grade with incredible transparency and immediacy. The overall sound is airy and open with lots of breathy texture to the horns and woodwinds.

1976 Grammy Award Winner for Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band!

When The Duke Flirted With The Queen

by Kevin Whitehead

In 1958, at an arts festival in Yorkshire, Duke Ellington was presented to Queen Elizabeth II. They tied up the reception line for a few minutes, exchanging royal pleasantries; our Duke politely flirted with Her Majesty. Soon afterward, maybe that very night, Ellington outlined the movements of The Queen’s Suite. He recorded it with his orchestra the following year, sent it to Her Majesty, and declined to release it to the public in his lifetime. It’s not clear whether Queen Elizabeth has listened to it.

Ellington devoted special attention to The Queen’s Suite, which in the end hewed closely to his original sketch. Its six episodes were inspired by natural phenomena encountered in his travels: bird calls of two continents (“Sunset and the Mocking Bird,” featuring clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, was based on a bird call Ellington overheard in Florida), the Northern Lights seen from a Canadian roadside, and a ballet of hundreds of lightning bugs, accompanied by a chorus of bullfrogs, along the Ohio River. Ellington’s alter ego Billy Strayhorn wasn’t there that night, but composed “Lightning Bugs and Frogs” from Ellington’s description.

The suites Duke Ellington wrote with Billy Strayhorn were sometimes loosely tied together. The Queen’s Suite is unified by prominent use of clarinets, their woodiness reinforcing the nature theme. Ellington ties that back to his royal subject via the movement “Apes and Peacocks.” Those were among the annual tributes bestowed on the Bible’s King Solomon — natural wonders presented for a monarch’s delight. It’s on a new edition of The Ellington Suites, which has three of them.

The Goutelas Suite was recorded in 1971, after Strayhorn’s passing. It commemorated a ceremony Ellington had participated in years earlier, in which the restored wing of a medieval chateau was unveiled in the French hills. In a journal, Ellington wrote warmly of how the countryside’s aristocrats and commoners — its intellectuals, artisans and laborers, its Catholics and communists — had all banded together on the project. Ellington’s orchestral concept was based on a similar idea, which he’d learned hanging around a D.C. pool hall as a kid: “All levels could and should mix.”

The album The Ellington Suites also contains the Uwis Suite of 1972, composed for a University of Wisconsin festival. It’s best remembered for Ellington’s novelty polka, “Klop.” But it also includes “Loco Madi,” the last of the many train songs Ellington recorded, in a tradition that began with his inaugural session in 1924. A new edit gives us three more minutes before the fadeout. There’s also a previously unreleased tune from the Uwis session, although not part of the suite; “The Kiss,” like “Loco Madi,” adds electric bass to the rhythm section. Neither of those performances is a model of ensemble polish. But all posthumous Ellington is of interest — even if it can’t all be The Queen’s Suite.