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Posts tagged ‘“And His Mother Called Him Bill”’

Fifty Year Friday: Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Recorded in December 1966, released in June 1967,  and winning a Grammy for  Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Large Group or Soloist with Large Group in 1968,”Far East Suite” is one of the finest concept albums of the 1960’s.  A collaboration between Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, as is the case with much of the Ellington catalog between 1939-1967, this work is a set of reflections of the Ellington band’s 1963 world tour that included visits to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, and then later, their 1964 visit to Japan. All the music with the exception of the last track on the LP, “Ad Lib on Nippon”, is inspired by their 1963 exposure to locations of the Near East.  This is not music based on music of those locations, but music inspired by impressions of these locations. The construction and quality of each composition blending crafted arrangements, colorful chords and chord voicings, and including solos that enhance and not detour from the arrangements, make this recording one of the gems of anyone’s LP or CD collection (the CD including alternative takes of tracks 1-3 and track 8.)

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

(All compositions by Ellington & Strayhorn except 9. by Ellington.)

  1. “Tourist Point of View” – 5:09
  2. “Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)” – 3:18
  3. Isfahan” – 4:02
  4. “Depk” – 2:38
  5. “Mount Harissa” – 7:40
  6. “Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)” – 3:00
  7. “Agra” – 2:35
  8. “Amad” – 4:26
  9. “Ad Lib on Nippon” – 11:34

Personnel

Billy Strayhorn initial inclinations were towards classical music, but the oppressive social barriers at the time made an entry into the classical realm much more difficult than one into the  jazz world. Strayhorn was talented enough to excel in either, and given the nature of classical composition in the 1930s-1960s, it’s fair to comment that the more meaningful and relevant new music was being produced as jazz and not the “avant-garde” school music composed for the concert hall and academia, which received limited performance and provided limited commercial recognition and compensation.

Billy Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1964, and bravely fought on, continuing to compose, even at the end when hospitalized, with his last year including works like “Blood Count” and “U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group).”  On May 31, 1967, he lived his last day in Billy Strayhorn’s body, but continued to survive through his arrangements, compositions and recordings, with this memorial album, “… And His Mother Called Him Bill”, a timeless work of deep love and respect from Mr. Ellington and his orchestra, providing an everlasting, very personal homage to this great 20th Century giant.

On the original LP, the last track is a fortuitously captured recording of Duke Ellington reflectively playing  Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” with bass player Aaron Bell, however the chance recording only has one working microphone and captures only the piano portion of this private performance.  Later, a trio version of this was recorded, but the producer found the spontaneous version more emotional and selected that. Both versions are particularly poignant with the solo piano version more personal and the trio version more polished. One can get both versions either in the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition 24 CD set or in the most recent (2016) CD reissue.  The tracks on the original LP are all excellent and transcend any stylistic classification.  If you love listening to the very best music, whether classical, jazz, rock or anything else, and attentively, actively listen to music, not just having it on as background but diving deeply into its innermost fabric, then you will find this album enormously rewarding.

Original LP [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Snibor” (Billy Strayhorn) – 4:16
  2. “Boo-Dah” (Strayhorn) – 3:25
  3. Blood Count” (Strayhorn) – 4:16
  4. “U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)” (Strayhorn) – 3:09
  5. “Charpoy” (Strayhorn) – 3:05
  6. “After All” (Strayhorn) – 3:28
  7. “The Intimacy of the Blues” (Strayhorn) – 2:55
  8. “Rain Check” (Strayhorn) – 4:34
  9. Day Dream” (Ellington, John La Touche, Strayhorn) – 4:18
  10. “Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 2:59
  11. “All Day Long” (Strayhorn) – 2:56
  12. “Lotus Blossom” (Strayhorn) – 3:52

2016 CD reissue

  1. “Snibor” (Strayhorn) – 4:16
  2. “Boo-Dah” (Strayhorn) – 3:28
  3. “Blood Count” (Strayhorn) – 4:18
  4. “U.M.M.G.” (Strayhorn) – 3:14
  5. “Charpoy” (Strayhorn) – 3:07
  6. “After All” (Strayhorn) – 3:52
  7. “The Intimacy of the Blues” (Strayhorn) – 2:58
  8. “Rain Check” (Strayhorn) – 4:37
  9. “Day Dream ” (Ellington, Latouche, Strayhorn) – 4:25
  10. “Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:02
  11. “All Day Long” (Strayhorn) – 2:58
  12. “Lotus Blossom [Solo Version]” (Strayhorn) – 3:54
  13. “Acht O’Clock Rock” (Ellington) – 2:23
  14. “Rain Check [alternate take]” (Strayhorn) – 5:22
  15. “Smada” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:21
  16. “Smada [alternate take]” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:20
  17. “Midriff” (Strayhorn) – 4:35
  18. “My Little Brown Book” (Strayhorn) – 4:13
  19. “Lotus Blossom [Trio Version]” (Strayhorn) – 4:56

Personnel

Check out Must Listen To Music for recommendations of other classic works.

Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts:

The Beatles

Arthur Rubinstein/Pink Floyd

Marta Argerich and Carlos Paredes

Jimi Hendrix

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, John’s Children

John Coltrane/Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk/McCoy Tyner

Hindustani Classical Music

The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Aretha Franklin/Simon Dupree and the Big Sound

Mahler recordings

Rolling Stones

Zappa/Beefheart

 

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