The Duke Ellington [Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974)] Orchestra’s signature theme song was composed by a noted musician-extraordinaire who was sometimes referred to as Duke’s alter-ego. Billy Strayhorn was Ellington’s resident composer and arranger. As a result, many of Strayhorn’s distinctive and invariably melodic songs (often hauntingly so) are usually associated with Duke Ellington.
Here is a fascinating and insightful, albeit no where near exhaustive, appreciation of William Thomas “Billy” Strayhorn (November 29, 1915 – May 31, 1967), written by Ronald E. Franklin and featuring ten of Strayhorn’s pulchritudinous originals.
We are featuring so many versions of A-Train, some of them so totally different from each other that it is virtually impossible to pick an outstanding favorite. We include both vocal and instrumental arrangements, as well as historic takes contrasting to more modern interpretations. Directly above is a version featuring Billy Strayhorn at the piano making absolutely clear that the man was a monster pianist of impeccable taste who knew how to do so much more with less by employing judiciously chosen notes.
As the cliche goes: sit back and relax, we are going to be a moment enjoying sixteen versions of a song which defined the sound of the World War 2 Era as well as many of the sounds that followed in the fifties, sixties and well beyond. While most are in the swing genre, there are also some real surprises, including an avant garde reading by the inimitable Sun Ra.
I promise you, you won’t be bored by the broad variety of musical expressions: there is a sequence by three jazz violinists; The Delta Rhythm Boys undertake an exploration as a vocal swing quartet; Joe Henderson leads a four-piece progressive jazz combo that features South African pianist Bheki Mseleku; then there’s also a modern jazz work out by bassist Charlie Mingus; plus many other delights including a solidly swinging study by the Count Basie Band, an aggregation often thought of as Ellington’s chief competitor. Indeed, we even include an amalgamation of the two orchestras blowing in tandem, deep in the pocket.
There are many more musical treats aggregated here. I’m sure you’ll find at least one or two versions that are absolutely enchanting. And please don’t miss checking out the rock-steady jump up.
We end with an almost impossible to believe workout featuring tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman accompanied by the Wynton Marsalis ensemble.