Duke Ellington: All American In Jazz + Midnight in Paris

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All American was a Broadway show with music by Charlie Strouse. Apparently it only ran for 80 performances. The All American In Jazz album was unusual in that Duke did not feature any of his or Strayhorn’s tunes, and none of the pieces stayed in the orchestra’s repertoire. Leonard Feather awarded the original LP four-and-a-half stars in Downbeat and, whilst I hesitate to differ with one of the all-time great jazz commentators, what I hear on these tracks is professionalism and craftsmanship rather than inspiration.

Interestingly, the original sleeve-notes quote Duke as saying, in relation to an interpretation of one of his tunes, “What’s wrong with the way the song was written?” and on the whole he seems to have been rather too respectful in his arrangements of the source material here. Of course, those arrangements are skilful and don’t lack wit, and with solos by several of the great Ellingtonians there is no shortage of decent music: whilst not a classic, it’s a moderately enjoyable collection.

Midnight In Paris is better. The title tune is Strayhorn’s and “Guitar Amour” and “Paris Blues” are Duke’s (the pair sharing arranging duties) with the rest of the programme drawn from the work of various French and US songwriters. Compared with the All American songs the scoring is much more satisfying, the solos more committed, particularly from Hodges. The pianists aren’t bad either. It’s an altogether more substantial set. If occasionally it sounds like just a job, it’s a job well done and worth having if you are a Duke fan. 

Gourley’s Flamenco-flavoured solo version of “Guitar Amour” is taken from Duke’s soundtrack for the film Paris Blues.

Discography
[All American in Jazz] (1) Back to School; I’ve Just Seen Her (As Nobody Else Has Seen Her); Which Way?; If I Were You; Once upon a Time; Nightlife; Our Children; I Couldn’t Have Done It Alone; We Speak the Same Language; What a Country! [Midnight in Paris] (2) Under Paris Skies; I Wish You Love; Mademoiselle of Paris; Comme Çi, Comme Ça; Speak to Me of Love; A Midnight in Paris; (All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings; Guitar Amour; The Petite Waltz; Paris Blues; Javapachacha (Apache); No Regrets; The River Seine; [bonus tracks] (3) Paris Blues; (4) Guitar Amour (78.32)
(1) Collectively: Cat Anderson, Bill Berry, Ed Mullens, Harold “Shorty” Baker (t); Ray Nance (t, vn); Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, Leon Cox (tb); Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts); Russell Procope (as, cl); Johnny Hodges (as); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (bar, cl, bcl); Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn (p); Aaron Bell (b); Sam Woodyard (d). New York, 2, 5, 10 & 23 January 1962.
(2) Collectively: Cat Anderson, Bill Berry, Ed Mullens, Harold “Shorty” Baker, Howard McGhee, Roy Burrowes (t); Ray Nance (t, vn); Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, Leon Cox, Buster Cooper, Britt Woodman (tb); Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts); Russell Procope (as, cl); Johnny Hodges (as); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (bar, cl, bcl); Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn (p); Aaron Bell (b); Sam Woodyard (d). New York, January-June 1962.
(3) Nance (t); Brown (tb); Hodges (as); Gonsalves (ts); Carney (bar); Strayhorn (p); Bell (b); Woodyard (d); Milt Grayson (v). Chicago, 16 March 1962.
(4) Jimmy Gourley (g). Paris, 15/16 December 1960.
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