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Black, Brown & Beige

Duke Ellington

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Album Review

Duke Ellington originally wrote the 50-minute "Black, Brown and Beige" in 1943 for a Carnegie Hall concert, where critics dismissed it as overreaching for a jazz composer. Over the next 15 years, he periodically resurrected it for performances of excerpts or, as in the case of his 1958 Columbia album, transmuting it into what was essentially a new work. Long out of print on vinyl and only available as an import on CD until 1999, the original Columbia Black, Brown and Beige album was one of the most extraordinary products of Ellington's second stay with the label, growing out of his 1956 Newport triumph, and it was received somewhat more readily than the original 1943 "Black, Brown and Beige." The main problem for those who knew the piece and its history lay in the absence of Johnny Hodges, who was hardly ever with the Ellington band during 1958, and on whose talents "Come Sunday," the centerpiece of the original work and even more the core of the revamped Black, Brown and Beige, was built. Instead, Mahalia Jackson sings a version of "Come Sunday" that is, if anything, equally affecting, backed by the orchestra led by Ray Nance's violin. The result on the original album was a piece that started off in big band-style blues and led to one of Ellington's most moving, wrenching pieces of work, and music that, had it been better known, might also have done more to raise people's consciousness about civil rights than a hundred folk songs of the period. An expanded 1999 reissue has ten bonus tracks, including eight flawed but fascinating alternate takes of the complete work. There's not a note of music that isn't worth hearing anywhere on the CD, and the album is a welcome restoration to the catalog.

Biography

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...
Full Bio