Sunday, December 1, 2013

Duke Ellington's Uptown Downbeat

I don't have all that much to say about Uptown Downbeat, which is a fairly obscure Ellington tune from the mid-1930s.  It is one of the last echoes of the late-1920s/early-1930s "jungle style" that is most commonly associated with Duke's days at the Cotton Club.  Here are a few other thoughts:

This is an obscure Ellington recording from 1936 that originally bore the name Blackout. It was recorded on one of the earliest dates during which Ben Webster, later to become a regular and the ultimate exponent of the Ellington tenor sound, recorded with Duke. The tune features Barney Bigard featured in a wailing initial clarinet solo. Then a solo by a trumpet (probably Cootie Williams or Rex Stewart, though Arthur Whetsol was still in the band for this session), followed by a Hodges soprano sax solo. Sixteen bars of ensemble figures, an eight-bar restatement of the main theme, and Duke is out of space on the 78 RPM record.

The “jungle style” is still alive in this tune. Keep in mind that Duke was still playing gigs at the Cotton Club as late as 1938, so the rhythm section and both soloists are still grounded in the same sorts of sounds that characterized tunes like Black & Tan Fantasy and The Mooche. The groove is a plodding thud-thud-thud sort of thing, with harsh beats from bass (Hayes Alvis) and guitar (Fred Guy). The drum feel (Sonny Greer) is a shuffle but sounds almost like the beginning inflections of a drum roll from time to time at the end of some of the eight-bar sections.

The whole feel of this tune reminds me a lot of Duke's later Across The Track Blues.

The soprano sax player should listen to a lot of Sidney Bechet to get the appropriate sound here.  Trumpet and clarinet players should listen to a lot of Duke's 1920s and early 1930s recordings.

Here are the relevant David Niven Collection tapes for stylistically similar recordings for these soloists to model their sound (and phrasing) after:

Sidney Bechet:

Ellington circa 1920s to 1938:

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