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Live In Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950

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Album Review

Duke Ellington was widely recorded in concert over his many decades in jazz, but the discovery of a previously unreleased live tape from 1950, in surprisingly listenable fidelity, is still an occasion worthy of applause. Of course the mere surfacing of the recording wouldn't mean a thing if it didn't have that swing, and this set does indeed. Accompanied by a relatively small group consisting of trumpeter Ray Nance (who also sings), clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Jimmy Hamilton, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, bassist/bass clarinetist Harry Carney, both Sonny Greer and Butch Ballard on drums, and Ellington's longtime co-writer Billy Strayhorn also on piano, plus the vocalist Kay Davis, Ellington is in fine form throughout. Ever the gentleman, Ellington introduces the numbers to the Swiss audiences, jokes a bit, and leads his charges in a most dignified manner. The performances are tight and inspired, respectful of the big-band tradition but unafraid to dip a few toes into the progressive waters looming ahead as the '50s kicked in. Solos are never less than praiseworthy and often quite hot. The song list yields no real surprises — standards of the Ellington repertoire and/or of the era in general such as "Take the 'A' Train," "Creole Love Call," "S'Wonderful," and "How High the Moon" are among the numbers performed — and overall the album does what it needs to: gives an accurate reflection of where this pioneer stood at this point in his long, legendary career.


Born: 29 April 1899 in Washington D.C.

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Duke Ellington was the most important composer in the history of jazz as well as being a bandleader who held his large group together continuously for almost 50 years. The two aspects of his career were related; Ellington used his band as a musical laboratory for his new compositions and shaped his writing specifically to showcase the talents of his bandmembers, many of whom remained with him for long periods. Ellington also wrote film scores and stage musicals, and several of his instrumental works...
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