Duke Ellington: Anatomy Of A Murder

Ellington's score for the courtroom drama with a jazz-loving lawyer is exciting in parts but mostly lightweight and detached from the action

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This is yet another CD reissue of Ellington’s score and soundtrack performance of the music he and Strayhorn composed for Otto Preminger’s ground-breaking 1959 courtroom drama. It starred James Stewart as a jazz-loving country lawyer along with Lee Remick, George C Scott and Ben Gazzara.

Handsomely packaged, the CD has an informative essay on both the film and the score by Richard Pete, but does not include either the perceptive analysis of the score by Wynton Marsalis or Phil Schaap’s discussion of the main themes of the movie in an earlier compilation.

In the film, Duke himself (as “Pie Eye”) appears briefly playing piano alongside Stewart, while Cat Anderson, Johnny Hodges and Clark Terry are briefly seen and heard to advantage. Duke is given only two lines to speak (these to Stewart): “Hey, you’re not splittin’ the scene man? I mean you’re not cuttin’ out?”

As for the music itself (both the soundtrack and later studio recreations and additions are included on this disc), the verdict has to be that it is a bit of a ragbag. The exciting opening salvo from the orchestra on Anatomy Of A Murder, followed by the haunting and recurring themes of Flirtibird, Happy Anatomy and Almost Cried are the highlights. The remaining numbers can best be described as pleasantly light-weight; some tracks run for barely two minutes. And as Terry Teachout observes: ”On the rare occasions when music is heard in a dialogue scene, it gives the impression of having little to do with the action it accompanies.”

AOAM is hardly, then, vintage Ellington. It was his first movie score, of which he said “I never thought it would earn an academy award because it really hadn’t an outstanding melody to hold on to.” Nevertheless, it’s still one for Ducal completists and/or card-carrying Premingerians.


Discography
Main Title And Anatomy Of A Murder; Flirtibird; Way Early Subtone; Hero To Zero; Low Key Lightly; Happy Anatomy#1; Midnight Indigo; Almost Cried; Sunswept Sunday; Grace Valse; Happy Anatomy#2; Haupe; Upper And Outest; Anatomy Of A Murder (stereo single); Merrily Rolling Along (aka Hero To Zero)/Sunswept Sunday; Beer Garden; Happy Anatomy #3; Polly (aka Grace Valse, Haupe, Lowe Key Lightly, Midnight Indigo); Polly; Happy Anatomy #4 (Dixieland version); More Blues; Almost Cried (aka Flirtibird); Anatomy Of A Murder (à la Guy Lombardo); Anatomy Of A Murder (mono single in stereo); The Grand Finale (rehearsal sequence); Anatomy Of A Murder (aka Upper And Outest, later studio version) (79.40)
Ellington (p); Billy Strayhorn (p & celeste); Clark Terry, Cat Anderson, Harold “Shorty” Baker, Ray Nance (t, vn, v); Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman, John Sanders (tb); Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts); Russell Procope (as, cl); Johnny Hodges (as, ss); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (bar, bcl, cl); Jimmy Woode (b); Jimmy Johnson (d). Los Angeles, 29 May & 1-2 June 1959.
Ellington (p); Anderson, Cootie Williams, Herbie Jones, Paul Serrano (t); Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, Buster Cooper (tb); Hamilton (cl, ts); Procope (as, cl); Hodges (as); Gonsalves (ts); Carney (bar, cl, bcl); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d). Chicago, 20 May 1965.
Soundtrack Factory 606373