Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

   The first LP I ever bought remained  among the most dear , as is often the case , like a first kiss.  It was Duke’s ”Nutcracker Suite”.    I had decided Duke was my first important musical hero….and I can’t really remember the details of “why”……His music just struck me between the eyes.It was immediate,yet it repaid attention a hundred-fold.”The Nutcracker “ was a curious starting point for someone embarking on a life of jazz,but it transpired that Duke’s wit and soul had blended beautifully with all the colours of the Tchaikovsky original . The lascivious calypso “Sugar Rum Cherry” that the Sugar Plum Fairy becomes remains delicious , but has become as black as the original was white.  Sorcery !

In February 1964,the Duke Ellington Orchestra opened a European tour at the Festival Hall,and I was there…..panting….. The band came on stage without  Paul Gonsalves,tenor saxophonist,(.. indisposed….) and started to play. Shortly after , Tubby Hayes came onstage to join the band , very much the local hero .He played brilliantly , we were all thrilled , and Duke immediately ( and shrewdly ) called for another Hayes feature. Tubby later said that there was no legible music for the old favourites….”Rockin’ in Rhythm” ,with its featured saxophone interlude when the saxes came down to the front , among them ….scary !

( Paul Gonsalves is on the train behind a supercilious Johnny Hodges in my drawing,his saxophone twisting to mirror his oblique style.A gentle man , too fond , perhaps , of the good things in life , he died just 9 days before Duke himself.

 My all-time favourite Ellington record….” Such Sweet Thunder “, a record I had at boarding school,one that I had to squeeze on to the communal record-player between Elvis’s “ G.I.Blues” , Tom Lehrer , Flanders and Swan , or Cliff and the Shadows,an interesting and ultimately broadening experience.


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