Late Ellington

There is little question that the 1940-41 edition of the Duke Ellington orchestra, the so-called Blanton-Webster band, was Ellington’s finest. Legions of Ellington lovers have listened to it so often that they can sing along with its arrangements and the solos by Webster, Ray Nance, Johnny Hodges, Ellington and the other members.
Still, I’ve always had a soft spot for the band Ellington took on the worldwide road in the 1960s until shortly before he died in 1974. The musicianship was extraordinary, of course, and there was something endearing about its laid-back collective attitude. A video displaying both aspects has shown up on Google. Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Cootie Williams, Booty Wood and Russell Procope are among the sidemen. The film runs about 40 minutes, so you might want to save it for when you have time to settle in and enjoy it. This is Ellington in La Bussola, Focette (near Viareggio), Italy, in July, 1970, four months after the release of the recording of his New Orleans Suite.

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  1. says

    Amazing. And also sad. Because I’m from Viareggio, and I was born just 6 years after this concert. Great artists performed at La Bussola (Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald once came here), and my zone was a very vital one. Now it’s all dead, nobody does anything to revive Viareggio, and everything is so stale (if you don’t consider state assisted wannabe festivals featuring the same musicians over and over). Back then, Ellington came to Viareggio. Now, if Terence Blanchard or Jason Moran or Greg Osby or [choose among today’s greats] would show up, he’d play in some shitty room with me and a few casual listeners who came in just because they got free tickets since they know the barman.
    Excuse me Doug, for this useless detourment! :) It’s just that I love your blog and I’ve been surprised to read my town’s name in here in a post regarding my favorite musician (Ellington of course).

  2. says

    Just wanted to say I enjoyed your post on Late Ellington–an epoch of DKE that I also really like, and in fact we had originally scheduled a Night Lights show for this April called exactly that (it’s been rescheduled for either later this year or early next). What an interesting period! In addition to the deservedly touted New Orleans Suite, there’s the Afro-Eurasian Eclipse, The River (one of the Private Recording volumes has a full band treatment of it), And His Mother Called Him Bill (if one marks this period as beginning in ’67 after the death of Strayhorn), the album of duets with Ray Brown… thanks for calling attention to the final chapter.