Thursday, November 7, 2013

Duke Ellington's Liberian Suite

From time to time, I wind up sitting in the audience at regional high school jazz festivals where a handful of bands play charts with more proficiency and a large batch of bands play charts with less proficiency.  I do not relish that fact: There is no pride to be taken by someone coming from a strong music program in seeing a struggling music program.  What ought to be happening is that the rising tide (which was lent a substantial tidal wave when Wynton Marsalis began distributing original unredacted Duke Ellington scores in the mid-1990s, single-handedly, as William F. Buckley, Jr. once said, "standing athwart [jazz] history and yelling 'STOP!'") should be lifting all boats.  The captains of the luxury liners that are positively surfing the crests of the waves should be doing all that they can to cast a line in the direction of the leaky rowboats and helping the latter to rise up.

For that reason, I thought it might be enjoyable to talk here about aspects of jazz, jazz history, and jazz education.

One of the 2013-2014 Essentially Ellington charts is I Like The Sunrise by Duke Ellington.  This tune is the first movement of The Liberian Suite, and students should take at least a listen or two to the full suite in order to understand the placement of this ballad relative to the up-tempo dances (several of which bring to mind Black, the third movement of Black, Brown & Beige) that follow.  There are three major recordings, of which I am aware, that students should have.  All have been released on CD at various points:

1. Duke Ellington: The Liberian Suite (original 1947 studio recording), released on CD both in the Chronological Classics series and in its entirety as extra tracks on Duke Ellington And His Orchestra: Ellington Uptown

On David Niven's Duke Ellington Tape 45 (1947):

2. Duke Ellington: Carnegie Hall Concert December 1947 CD 2 (original live 1947 world premiere of The Liberian Suite; beginning with the January 1943 Carnegie Hall Concert fundraiser for the Soviet troops, which served as the concert hall premiere of Ellington's only full symphony Black, Brown & Beige, it was Duke's custom to premiere each of his major works during the 1940s at Carnegie Hall; in the 1950s, the Newport Jazz Festival and other major jazz festivals took on a comparable role for Ellington premieres)

On David Niven's Duke Ellington Tape 46 (1947-1948):

3. Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Portraits By Ellington (1990s-era recording of entire Liberian Suite with Milt Grayson performing Al Hibbler's role)

More on I Like The Sunrise and/or Liberian history in the next post.  In the meanwhile, contemplate this question:

Duke Ellington wrote a ton of very well-worn love songs in his life.  Is I Like The Sunrise a love song?  If not, then in what topical tradition can it be categorized?  If so, then to whom is the love song being sung by the vocalist?  Further, if Duke had ever re-purposed or re-packaged this tune for use in another suite, which of his suites do you think it might have best fit into--other than the Liberian Suite itself, of course?

No comments:

Post a Comment