Rifftides reader Mike Paulson writes:
Looked up this clip on YouTube after watching Scott Robinson play “Isfahan” with Martin Wind at The Seasons the other evening.
I am amazed at how timeless this arrangement is. Hard to improve on perfection. Not sure why Duke had to hold the sheet music for Johnny Hodges.
Ellington and Billy Strayhorn got the inspiration for “Isfahan” during the band’s tour of the Middle East in 1963. It became a part of The Far East Suite, which Ellington did not record until 1966. An educated guess is that in the 1964 performance—not 1965, as YouTube labels it—captured on the clip, Ellington or Strayhorn had recently written it and Hodges was giving the tune one of is first hearings, if not the first. If that is the case, his needing the lead sheet for reference is not surprising. It was not unusual for Ellington to have the band perform new music when the ink was barely dry.
The Scott Robinson performance of “Isfahan” that Mr. Paulson mentioned is covered in the Rifftides October 18 review two exhibits down.