JJ 01/71: Duke Ellington – My People

Fifty years ago Michael Shera thought the centrepiece of Ellington's civil rights project 'pretentious and pompous'. First published in Jazz Journal January 1971


This slight piece of Ellinqtonia was first issued on Stateside SL 10073, and reviewed by our Editor in May, 1964. The music was written for the Century of Negro Progress Ex­position staged in Chicago in 1963. It was presented twice daily for two weeks and involved four solo singers, a 14-voice choir and two companies of dancers as well as a 16-piece Ellingtonian band (but not the Ellington band itself).

Impressive though it may have been as a stage presentation, it occupies a very minor place in Ellington’s recorded repertoire. For the Ellington fan, there will be pleasure in Montage at the ex­cellent trumpet playing of Bill Berry and Ray Nance, and perhaps in the blues pieces on the second side. Unless, of course, you happen to be a fervent admirer of Ellington vocalists, who do seem to have a style all their own.

The most dispensible part of the record is Duke’s narration of My People, which even our Editor was moved to describe as ‘a little out of character’. I find it hard to believe Duke actually wrote this pretentious and pompous section himself.

Ain’t But The One; Will You Be There; Come Sunday; David Danced; My Mother, My Father And Love; Montage (18 min) – My People; The Blues Ain’t; Workin’ Blues; My Man Sends Me; Tail Blues; Lovin’ Lover; King Fit The Battle Of Alabam; What Colour Is Virtue? (19 min)
Duke Ellington (narrator); Lil Greenwood, Jimmy McPhail, Jimmy Grissom, the Irving Bunton Singers (vcl): Bunny Briggs (tap dancing); Jimmy Jones (cond/pno); Bill Berry, Ray Nance, Ziggy Harrell, Nat Woodyard (tpt); Britt Woodman, John Sanders, Booty Wood (tbn); Russell Procope. Rudy Powell, Bob Freedman, Harold Ashby, Pete Clarke (reeds): Billy Strayhorn (cls): Joe Benjamin (bs); Louis Bellson (dm): Juan Amalbert (conga dm). Chicago 20-21-28/8/63.
(Philips 6369 400 39s 11d)