Album Remarks & Appraisals:
This new two-disc set, the latest addition to the Norman Granz collection, brings together two of the greatest names in jazz: Duke Ellington & Ella Fitzgerald. The first disc sees Duke performing live in the South of France with Ella Fitzgerald as his special guest and the second disc contains the previously unseen footage of Duke Ellington in one of his last ever live performances jamming with Joe Pass, Ray Brown and Louie Bellson. The DVD is mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound. The bonus features are: Disc One Nat Hentoff presents Duke & Ella, a photo gallery and portraits by David Stone Martin. For disc two, the last ever interview with bass player Ray Brown.
Personnel: Duke Ellington (piano); Ella Fitzgerald (vocals); Joe Pass (electric guitar); Harry Carney (clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone); Russell Procope (clarinet, alto saxophone); Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Johnny Hodges (alto saxophone); Paul Gonsalves (tenor saxophone); Cootie Williams, Herbie Jones, Mercer Ellington, Cat Anderson (trumpet); Lawrence D. Brown, Buster Cooper (trombone); Chuck Connors (bass trombone); Jimmy Jones (piano); Grady Tate, Louie Bellson (drums).
Recording information: 07/27/1966-01/08/1973.
This two-DVD set includes several rare films featuring Duke Ellington in several different settings. Disc one documents his first appearance in the French Riviera at the Côte d'Azur in July 1966, with the pianist making intermittent commentary via voice-over between some selections. While the leader is stuck with an obviously substandard piano (with a horrid muddy bass range) and an outdoor setup that is not conducive to getting ideal sound, Ellington, being an old pro, does his best to make do with the conditions. Trombonist Lawrence Brown sounds off-key in "Black and Tan Fantasy," though trumpeter Cootie Williams (with his terrific mute work) and the clarinet trio of Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, and Harry Carney (on bass clarinet) shine in "Creole Love Call." The scene shifts to an outdoor session by Ellington with drummer Sam Woodyard and bassist John Lamb for a wild extended workout of "Kinda Dukish" that incorporates a fair amount of stride, plus a playful take of "The Shepherd." The next section begins as an afternoon rehearsal with the band, as pieces are adjusted for the later concert. "The Old Circus Train Turnaround Blues," where Ellington "stole back" his piece "Happy-Go-Lucky Local" from former sideman Jimmy Forrest who had a hit with "Night Train," (a rip-off of the pianist's "Happy-Go-Lucky Local") segues from rehearsal directly into the performance with a rousing bluesy solo by Johnny Hodges. The concert continues with the extended work "La Plus Belle Africaine," showcasing Lamb, Woodyard, and Hamilton. When Ella Fitzgerald is introduced, most of the band stays on the stage, though her own rhythm section accompanies her anchored by pianist Jimmy Jones; the engaging "Jazz Samba" is the highlight of her brief set. The first disc concludes with Ellington's familiar demonstration of how to snap your fingers and look hip during a brief closing rendition of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be."
But it is the second disc that proves to be of special interest, it is a video documentary of the making of Ellington's small group Pablo CD Duke's Big Four, with Joe Pass, Ray Brown, and Louie Bellson, complete with some of the rehearsals of songs. Taped with a single camera, it may have been arranged by producer Norman Granz for his personal enjoyment, as it has a very informal quality to it. Initially the pianist noodles around with his piece "The Brotherhood," but after some brief rehearsals, he decides to move on. After a brief run through, a masterful take of "Just Squeeze Me" is completed, though the group thinks it is still a rehearsal and none of the players realize that tape is rolling. They converse over most of the playback, which is finally faded out. Likewise, "Carnegie Blues" quickly takes shape and is nailed the first time through. Ellington looks rather tired, as he may very well already be fighting the cancer that would take his life the following year. This rare opportunity to view a recording session in full color led by Duke Ellington, just over a year prior to his death, should be of great interest to his fans. A special bonus is an interview with Ray Brown, claimed to be the last one he taped prior to his death in July 2002. ~ Ken Dryden
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