Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and leader of a jazz orchestra from 1923 through the rest of his life.
Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s and gained a national profile through his orchestra’s appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. In the 1930s, his orchestra toured Europe several times.
Some of the jazz musicians who were members of Ellington’s orchestra, such as saxophonist Johnny Hodges, are considered among the best players in the idiom. Ellington melded them into the best regarded orchestral unit in the history of jazz. Some members stayed with the orchestra for several decades. A master at writing miniatures for the three-minute 78 rpm recording format, Ellington wrote or collaborated on more than one thousand compositions; his extensive body of work is the largest recorded personal jazz legacy, and many of his pieces have become standards. He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such as Juan Tizol’s “Caravan”, which brought a Spanish tinge to big band jazz. At the end of the 1930s, Ellington began a nearly thirty-year collaboration with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his writing and arranging companion.
With Strayhorn, he composed multiple extended compositions, or suites, as well as many short pieces. For a few years at the beginning of Strayhorn’s involvement, Ellington’s orchestra is considered to have been at its peak, with bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster briefly members. Following a low-profile period (Hodges temporarily left), an appearance by Ellington and his orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1956 led to a major revival and regular world tours. Ellington recorded for most American record companies of his era, performed in and scored several films, and composed a handful of stage musicals.
Although a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, in the opinion of Gunther Schuller and Barry Kernfeld, “the most significant composer of the genre”, Ellington himself embraced the phrase “beyond category”, considering it a liberating principle, and referring to his music as part of the more general category of American Music. Ellington was known for his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, as well as for his eloquence and charisma. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize Special Award for music in 1999.
Latin American Suite is a studio album by the American pianist, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington, mainly recorded in 1968, with one track completed in 1970, and released on the Fantasy label in 1972.(wikipedia)
When Duke Ellington and his musicians left New York for Rio de Janeiro on the first day of September, 1968, it was—rather surprisingly for such world-travelers —their first excursion to Latin America. “I’m giving up a lot of my virginity on this trip,”” Ellington observed as the Aerolineas Argentinas jet headed south. “I’ve never been to South America or below the equator before.”
They played in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Mexico, and always they were welcomed in packed houses with an enthusiasm that moved the most experienced and blasé among them. At receptions in the different U. S. embassies, these unofficial ambassadors met and discussed affairs of the day with members of the diplomatic corps as though such occasions were routine to them. The main responsibility, however, fell on Ellington himself, his wit, charm and composure everywhere making a big impression. In addition to the concerts and the more-or-less obligatory social affairs attended by his men, he not only had to make television and radio appearances, but also field questions of all kinds at extensive press receptions in each new city visited.
He did this with unfailing skill and tact, although often he was very short of sleep because of the infrequent air services between South American cities (infrequent, that is, as compared with what is normal in his own country and Europe). His patience, too, seemed inexhaustible, and everyone who wanted an autograph received one, no matter how much time it took. “l can’t let these people down,” he said once, refusing to escape by a back door from a theatre besieged by admirers. The affection between artist and audience reached a peak in Buenos Aires where, after his last performance, people waited crying, trying to touch him, and in many cases thrusting gifts upon him that did not even bear their names.
“The generosity and enthusiasm of the audiences,” he said on leaving, “‘were altogether the inspiration of a lifetime — a virtual ~summit in my career. Everything and everyone has been so completely and warmly attuned that I am truly overwhelmed, and at a loss to express my appreciation. Perhaps I can do so at a later date, in music.””
The music in this album is the expression of that appreciation, and much of it was actually written while the tour was in progress. He had agreed to present a new work, which he had tentatively titled Mexican Anticipacion, in Mexico City on September 28th, and he was writing this and trying out sections of it during the band’s performances en route. The warmth of the welcome in South America, however, soon caused him to decide that the Mexican sections would have to become part of a larger Latin American Suite.
There were occasional opportunities for him to hear authentic native music, as in Sao Paolo, where an extremely talented group of folk musicians was specially gathered together in a small club for his entertainment. Moreover, authorities of regional music brought him books and records to supplement their discussions with him. But essentially The Latin American Suite is not an attempt to re-interpret the musical forms indigenous to the countries he visited; it reproduces musically the impressions made upon him by those countries and their people. Thus the rhythmic underlay is always oriented in a Latin American direction, but it is achieved by his regular rhythm section, without the addition of the congas, bongos and timbales most composer-arrangers would have felt necessary.
A striking difference between this and his other suites is in the much greater emphasis on the ensemble and the piano player’s role.
For once, most of the other soloists take second place. In this, perhaps, and in the unison voicing, Ellington echoes practices of those Latin American bands that were influenced in their instrumental devices by the big U.S. bands. (taken from the original liner notes by Stanley Dance)
Duke Ellington always absorbed influences from the music he heard as he toured the world, and The Latin American Suite is no exception. Written during his first tour of Central and South America in 1968, Ellington premiered several of the pieces during concerts in the Southern hemisphere, though he didn’t record it until returning to the U.S., with one piece (“Tina”) being recorded separately over a year after the other tracks. “Oclupaca” is an exotic opener showcasing Paul Gonsalves’ robust tenor, while Ellington gets in an Oriental kick during his driving blues “Chico Cuadradino” (jointly written with his son Mercer). Ellington is in a jaunty mood in his bossa nova “Eque,” which spotlights both Johnny Hodges and Gonsalves. The infectious “Latin American Sunshine” is buoyed by Harry Carney’s sonorous baritone sax and trombonist Lawrence Brown’s solo. It’s a shame that Ellington chose not to keep any of these originals in his repertoire once work was completed on this album. (by Ken Dryden)
Jeff Castleman (bass)
Duke Ellington (piano)
Rufus Jones (drums)
Cat Anderson – Willie Cook – Mercer Ellington – Cootie Williams
Lawrence Brown – Buster Cooper – Chuck Connore
Chuck Connors – Johnny Hodges – Russell Procope – Paul Gonsalves – Harold Ashby – Harry Carney
Russell Procope – Harold Ashby
Paul Kondziela (bass on 04.)
01. Oclupaca 4.26
02. Chico Cuadradino 5.11
03. Eque 3.32
04. Tina 4.40
05. The Sleeping Lady And The Giant Who Watches Over Her 7.31
06. Latin American Sunshine 7.05
07. Brasilliance 5.10
Music: Duke Ellington,
except 02.; Duke Ellington & Mercer Ellington
The suite opens with Oclupaca, a title that is a typical Ellington inversion. If you have ever been there, you will know that it is a delightful place for a vacation. The band spent a very relaxed day on its beaches, and played for an equally relaxed dance, at which Ava Gardner made a radiant appearance. The happiness of that occasion, even an impression of sunlit good health, are present in a performance that yet has an exotic, yearning undercurrent, as though the weathered inhabitants of the red hills beyond were remembered, too. Fittingly, the band’s champion swimmer is given the major solo responsibility, and Paul Gonsalves makes the most of it in a manner that may bring back fond memories of Ben Webster on Conga Brava.
Chico Cuadradino portrays “a little Spanish square doing his thang!” Humcrous and animated, it has a boisterous trombone solo by Buster Cooper and another sterling contribution from Gonsalves. Note the audible presence of the late Johnny Hodges in the reed section, and the handclapping of the maestro in the background. The inspiration was derived from another of those occasions when the band played for dancers.
Eque has to do with Ellington’s first crossing of the Equator, an event that would stir the imagination even without the presentation of a commemorative document in elegant, courtly Spanish. Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves share solo honors with the piano player.
Tina is an affectionate diminutive for Argentina, whose people reacted so emotionally everywhere. Ellington noticed that the Brazilian response was stronger to the more rhythmic numbers, whereas the Argentinians showed more appreciation of his music’s melodic qualities. Played only by the rhythm section, here including two bassists, Tina has a pretty, fragrant theme, and appropriate references to the tango, a dance still popular in Argentina.
The Sleeping Lady and the Giant Who Watches Over Her are the two snow-capped mountains whose presence is always felt in Mexico City. Although it is the closest to the U.S., Mexico is yet in many respects one of the most “foreign” of the Latin American countries, and these brooding mountains are an unforgettable part of its singular landscape. Somehow, Ellington the composer has managed to convey, along with their serenity, something of the extraordinarily colorful history they have witnessed.
Latin American Sunshine is a catchy piece that grew on tour from a rhythmic work-out by piano and bass to an extremely exhilarating statement by the whole band. The reeds always contrived to make their entry with a special lift. Note the invaluable role of Harry Carney’s baritone saxophone in the counter-melody and Lawrence Brown’s jaunty interpolation. The sunshine in the title should not, of course, be taken too literally, for it embraces the warm smiles and warm hearts encountered throughout Latin America.
Brasilliance, surging with life and rhythmic power, can be regarded as a tribute to the huge nation to the south. A long way from the cool sophistication of the samba, it salutes both the industrial energy of Sao Paolo and the frontier spirit of those who are opening up the vast interior. Paul Gonsalves, again in marvelous form, is in his element, as he was in Brazil, where his knowledge of Portuguese made him the band’s official interpreter.
Ellington’s tremendous resources in thematic and orchestral invention are once again revealed in The Latin American Suite. Certainly, no one associated with jazz has succeeded in blending its emotional content so felicitously with the rhythmic impulses of Latin American idioms. (Stanley Dance)
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