Duke Ellington: Blues In Orbit

In 1958 and 1959 an Ellington orchestra including Johnny Hodges and Ray Nance produced 13 relaxed and engaging variations on the blues


This is not one of Duke’s standard albums, no sacred music, or Nutcracker Suite. Not even a frantic burn up at Newport. This is a collection of blues pieces, slow, medium, sad, uplifting, pretty much blues of all shades and moods. And very relaxing and enjoyable it is too. Everyone in the orchestra sounds like they were enjoying every minute.

Smada begins with rich piano chords from Duke and continues with a sensuous alto solo from Johnny Hodges. Pie Eye’s Blues is a slow work out for Duke, Ray Nance on trumpet and a neat tenor workout from Jimmy Hamilton. This piece was heard in the film Anatomy Of A Murder where Ellington scored the soundtrack and appeared as jazz bandleader Pie Eye. This session was most likely recorded at the same time as the film music.

Jimmy Johnson proves to be a sensitive but hard-driving drummer, particularly on the uptempo tracks. Sweet And Pungent is very much as the title suggests, with very slow, bluesy muted trombone and minimal piano from the leader. There is also an alternate take on this selection as there is for the title tune. Blues in Blueprint is also slow tempo with Carney on bass clarinet and some very laidback lines from the orchestra.

Apparently, the copyist did not turn up on the two main days of recording, so Duke and Strayhorn were busy filling in and most likely decided to keep it simple and basic. Villes Villa Is The Place Man is a sturdy swinger featuring Nance on trumpet and Harry Carney’s baritone. Although these tracks may lack some of the invention and power play of the orchestra it is good to hear 13 varied blues selections played in contented, late-night jam style.

Three J’s Blues; Smada; Pie Eye’s Blues; Sweet And Pungent; C Jam Blues; Sweet And Pungent; In A Mellow Tone; Blues In Blueprint; The Swingers Get The Blues Too; The Swinger’s Jump; Blues In Orbit; Villes Ville Is The Place Man; Blues In Orbit (42.54)
Ellington (p); Ray Nance (t, vn); Clark Terry, Cat Anderson Harold Baker (t); Britt Woodman, Booty Wood, Matthew Gee, Quentin Jackson, John Sanders (tb); Johnny Hodges (as); Russell Procope (cl, as); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Jimmy Hamilton (ts, cl); Harry Carney (bar); Jimmy Woode (b); Jimmy Johnson, Sam Woodyard (d). NYC, February 1958, February 1959 and 2 & 3 May 1959.
WaxTime 772183