duke ellington’s ‘difficult’ 1949/1950 period

I’m trying to get a better grip on my ever-increasing collection of music. I’m finding that my DJing is suffering from both my time off the dance floor and my spending on emusic. Emusic in particular challenges me, because it means I’m buying one or two songs rather than whole albums and as a result not getting to know an artist or particular period in depth.
So here’s something about one CD I’ve just been listening to this afternoon.
I like it that Ellington stuff from the very late 40s and early 50s can be so challenging. Almost good for lindy hop. But then, also often experimenting with dissonance in a way that dancers can’t quite handle. This Ellington collection from 1949-50 is an excellent example. Track listing? Here:
1949:
You Of All People
Creole Love Call
The Greatest There Is
Snibor
The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise
Joog, Joog
Good Woman Blues
On The Sunny Side Of The Street
B-Sharp Boston
1950:
Hello Little Boy
The Greatest There Is!
Perdido
Take The “A” Train
Untitled Blues
Oscalypso
Blues For Blanton
Mean Ol’Choo Choo
Me And My Wig
How Blue Can You Get
Juke Bop Boogie
Set ‘Em Up
New Piano Roll Blues
The Man I Love
I picked this one up on Chron Classics a few years ago, and really like the combination of songs. Chron Classics are just that – a chronological (and complete) collection of songs by an artist (or featuring them) during a specific period. But the development of Ellington’s style is quite marked in just these two years, on one album of ‘singles’. When I first bought it I was spending a lot of time on public transports and reading Gunther Schuller’s Swing book. I’d combine listening to music with reading Schuller on PT via The Squeeze’s ipod. Ellington had such a long career, and was so musically interesting, it’s no wonder Schuller devoted such a long chapter to him. Or that I kept coming back to him on the ipod.
I play ‘Joog Joog’ a lot for dancers. And ‘B Sharp Boston’. ‘Joog Joog’ has an unusual beginning, and dancers are never quite sure about it. But the beat is insistent – you _will_ dance to this medium-tempo song. But there are a few here that are really quite… unusual. Ellington was interested in dissonance quite early on – earlier on that a lot of other doods. But when it’s mixed in with his more conventional, danceable fare, it comes as a bit of a surprise. I like listening to the transition in his approach over just this short two year period. The second version of ‘The Greatest There Is’ has an earthier, more vernacular vocal, but it’s a bit less comfortable harmonically in parts. Even ‘Take the A Train’, a standard in the lindy hopper’s collection, is challenging. The piano intro is dissonant, the bass solo is long and complicated. It’s all fabulous music, but it’s not stuff I’d automatically play for a general lindy hopping crowd.

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