In 1955 the great Duke Ellington and his Orchestra performed for the 10,000 seat D.C. Armory, in his hometown of Washington, D.C. As Ellington fans will of course remember, Ellington had an incredible rebirth at the Newport Jazz Festival the next year, after reacquiring alto saxophone star Johnny Hodges and his writing partner, the great Billy Strayhorn. New drummer Sam Woodyard would also prove to be an invaluable part of the new Ellington sound, but as this concert is from 1955, none of these changes had as yet taken place, which is why this performance is so very significant to the Ellington aficionado.
In this performance we have the great alto saxophonist Rick Henderson, who was a very capable arranger as well as bebop altoist. Here we get to hear a rare glimpse of his playing and writing on "All The Things You Are". He was not featured as the band's lead alto, as Russell Procope had taken over after brief stints in which Willie Smith and then Hilton Jefferson played lead in the band. We also hear from the great drummer Dave Black, for whom Strayhorn composed and arranged "Gonna Tan Your Hide", and here he is most interestingly heard in his interpretation of "Tone Parallel to Harlem". Perdido is used as a swinging vehicle for Clark Terry's prodigious and sassy story telling, along with some sidebar commentary by other brass members Nance, Anderson, and Woodman. "Just Squeeze Me" features Ray Nance's soulfully swaggerful singing as always. Pay attention to the "pep section" (brass with plungers) as they squeeze so much juice out of this song it should be a crime! Cat Anderson does his usual Spanish tinged feature on "La Virgen", full of suspenseful dramatics and prowlery of "el gato" himself. Duke announces a fully descriptive introduction of the 1946 composition "Happy Go-Lucky Local" complete with his subliminal shot at ex-Ellingtonian tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, who essentially "borrowed" the main theme of the tune for his huge hit record "Night Train". More great Ray Nance vocals on "A Train", the very song he recorded his very famous trumpet solo on, but this is the early 50's version of course, complete with an incredible performance by tenor sax giant Paul Gonsalves. The tune called "John Sanders' Blues" appears to actually be a slight reworking of "Happy Go-Lucky Local" part 1, again from the 1946 composition, Deep South Suite.
Performers on this Album
Piano/Leader: Duke Ellington
Trumpet: Cat Anderson, Clark Terry, Willie Cook, Ray Nance
Trombone: Britt Woodman, John Sanders, Quentin Jackson
Reeds: Rick Henderson, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney
Bass: Jimmy Woode
Drums: Dave Black
Violin/Vocals: Ray Nance