JJ 01/81: Duke Ellington – Tchaikovsky/Grieg

Forty years ago Max Harrison thought that the only excuse for this 'vulgar and stupid' project was that it was 'born in some record company executive's busy mind'. First published in Jazz Journal January 1981


My detestation of these per­formances for twenty years does not arise from an exaggerated reverence for the classics. The works are minor ones and remain available in their original forms.

If Ellington had re-composed them in his own image, in the manner of Tatum’s Elegie (Massenet) or Gil Evans’s Maids Of Cadiz (Delibes), then we should have something remarkable. But the adaptation was done with a highly uncharacteristic lack of imagination: the music is merely ‘jazzed-up’ in the most obvious manner.

Rather than attribute this to a brief lapse in Ellington’s creative energy, the realistic assumption is that this project was born in some record company executive’s busy mind. And as was to be expected of some­thing as vulgar and stupid, the initial Tchaikovsky LP was a huge success, so the Grieg follow-up became inevitable.

And because the only response to Ellington which the jazz community can manage is abject hero worship, doubtless this reissue will be greeted with the usual ecstasy.

Overture; Toot Toot Tootie Toot; Peanut Brittle Brigade; Sugar Rum Cherry; Entr’acte; The Volga Vouty; Chinoiserie; Dance Of The Floreadores (Tchaikovsky) (25.07) – Arabesque Cookie (Tchaikovsky); Morning Mood; In The Hall Of The Mountain King; Solveig’s Song; Ase’s Death; Anitra’s Dance (Grieg) 23.28)
Ray Nance, Willie Cook, Andres Meringuito, Ed Mullins (t); Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown, Britt Woodman, Booty Wood (tb); Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope(as); Paul Gonsalves(ts); Jimmy Hamilton (cl/ts); Harry Carney (bs); Duke Ellington (p); Aaron Bell (b); Sam Woodyard (d).
(CBS 61899)