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Piano In the Background

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Album Review

Recorded in 1960, Piano in the Background's title is a bit of a misnomer. While it's true that Duke Ellington often didn't appear on his recordings at all and this one is designed to showcase a series of new arrangements for the Ellington Orchestra, it also offers the composer and bandleader as a pianist leading the band. All of the album's original nine cuts, as well as its five bonus tracks, are introduced by the man himself at the ivories, and he also takes each one out. The selection here is a beauty: from "Happy Go Lucky Local" from "Deep South Suite" and the nearly forgotten "What Am I Here For," to a medley of "Kinda Dukish," "Rockin' in Rhythm," "Perdido," "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," and "I'm Beginning to See the Light," to Billy Strayhorn's classics "Take the 'A' Train" and "Midriff." These arrangements are crisp, sometimes startling, and dynamically performed. The bonus material includes Strayhorn's "Dreamy Sort of Thing" and a couple takes of George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland" as well as Gerald Wilson's awesome "The Wailer." There is also a slippery read of the Duke's "Harlem Air Shaft," which was recorded at a session in 1961 and was previously unreleased. In all, this and the two discs that were reissued as companions to this one, Piano in the Foreground and Blues in Orbit, mark a highly creative and productive time in Ellington's long career.


Born: April 29, 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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