Duke Ellington – A Drum Is A Woman

More Duke Ellington

  • This wonderful musical allegory makes its Hot Stamper debut here with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • The sound is rich and Tubey Magical, yet transparent and spacious in the way that only vintage pressings ever are
  • It’s hard to imagine an original pressing playing any quieter than this one does
  • “It was powerful, rhythmic and kaleidoscopic, with a strong vocal anchor at Friday’s performance in Claudia Hamilton, a commanding presence as Madam Zajj.”

This vintage Columbia 6 Eye Mono pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of A Drum Is A Woman have to offer is not hard to hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1956
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.


One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.

What We’re Listening For on A Drum Is A Woman

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.


Side One

A Drum Is A Woman
Rhythm Pum Te Dum
What Else Can You Do With A Drum
New Orleans
Hey, Buddy Bolden
Carribee Joe
Congo Square

Side Two

A Drum Is A Woman (Part 2)
You Better Know It
Madam Zajj
Ballet Of The Flying Saucers
Zajj’s Dream
Carribee Joe (Part 2)

New York Times Review

Duke Ellington’s ”Drum Is a Woman,” a jazz allegory with songs by the Duke and Billy Strayhorn and a narrative in the Duke’s ironic and sometimes florid prose, was composed and recorded in 1956. A year later, it was adapted for a television production. In the more than three decades since then, it had never been performed. But on Friday it was given its stage premiere at Symphony Space by an 11-piece orchestra and 3 singers conducted by the pianist and arranger Chris Cherney.

Ellington’s fantasy involves the seductive Madam Zajj, who seeks fame and sophistication, and Carabea Joe, who is drawn to the jungle and its drums. Madam Zajj’s attempts to lure Carabea Joe from the jungle takes them through a quick history of jazz from New Orleans to New York and be-bop, which was the ultimate extension of jazz in 1956.

Unlike other extended Ellington works, which are primarily if not entirely instrumental, ”A Drum Is a Woman” is developed through songs and a narration with only occasional full orchestral passages. It was powerful, rhythmic and kaleidoscopic, with a strong vocal anchor at Friday’s performance in Claudia Hamilton, a commanding presence as Madam Zajj. Luke Dogen’s Carabea Joe was a genial, good-time companion with a strong inner core that emerged in a positively stated love song, ”You Better Know It.”

The narration, originally performed on the recording by Duke Ellington in his jive elegant manner, was taken over by his son Mercer, who hit the right rhythmic and dramatic emphases without attempting to copy his father’s tone. The orchestra was crisp and authoritative, although it sometimes dominated the singing.

By John S. Wilson

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