Premiered by Ellington part 4

This is the last article in the series about Premiered by Ellington. The little known album recorded in April 1953 for Capitol Records. The recordings from this period is not appreciated very much. Ellington was challenged in terms of popularity and finances, and it is therefore assumed that the music was nothing special either.

Ellington always had an open ear for new trends in music. The idea about revisiting film and show tunes from the 20s and 30s was one of them, and this is exactly what we get here. And if you listen to live recordings from the period, there are many more of these standard tunes, as we call them today. Another thing was the mambo craze, and of cause he had to try that too.

In all periods of his career he recorded pop music. Some more than others, but he always made art music as well. They go hand in hand, and it’s not possible to draw a straight line between the two.

And now to the three last songs…

#6: Stardust is composed by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Mitchell Parish. It was first performed at the Cotton Club in 1927 by Ellington, but curiously enough not recorded at the time. It doesn’t show up in Duke’s discography until 1940 in two concert performances. In 1950 a studio recording by The Ellingtonians with Al Hibbler was made, however, Ellington left the piano to Billy Strayhorn on this particular recording. The 1953 version is the only studio recording by the Ellington band, and I’m pretty sure Strayhorn played piano on this one too.

The first version of Stardust recorded at Hotel Sherman in Chicago in 1940 (released on CD by DESS) features Herb Jeffries on vocal and solos by Barney Bigard on clarinet and Johnny Hodges on alto sax. The recording is unfortunately incomplete, but the almost 3 minutes we get is worth listening to. After Jeffries vocal, there is an orchestral interlude and when Bigard plays the verse. The use of the whole tone scale, in a similar way to Don Redman’s Chant of the Weed, at the beginning and in the transition between Bigard and Hodges solo, is interesting. Also worth noting is Ellington’s Gershwin-esque piano intro.

The second recording, done just a month or two later at The Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, is totally different. This version, unfortunately also incomplete, features Ben Webster and the rhythm section with a simple accompaniment from the orchestra. Not very interesting from an arrangement point of view, but Webster manages very well without a lot of background scoring!

The third version, recorded at Carnegie Hall in December 1943, features Shorty Baker on trumpet as the only soloist. The first chorus is with the rhythm section only. From the second chorus on, the band plays an accompaniment to Baker’s solo scored by his wife Mary Lou Williams. Much of it consist of a repeated figure, but there are some chromatic passages added for variation. From an arrangement point of view this version certainly is more interesting than Fargo, although it get’s a little stiff at times. But from a solo perspective, it’s just the opposite. Here it is Webster who throws himself into an over 4 minute long improvisation where he only hints at the melody. Baker, on the other hand, stays close to the melody most of the time.

The 1953 version, the actual subject of this article, is once again a completely new arrangement. This time the soloist is trumpeter Clark Terry. The 12 bar intro, arranged by Ellington, is based on the A section and played by the saxes in parallel harmonies. The first 8 bars sounds exactly like the first A of the song, but when we get to bar 9 (0:25), we discover that it was actually the intro we listened to. Then Clark Terry enters and plays the whole 32 bar ABAC song, accompanied by beautiful sustained chords from the orchestra. This part of the arrangement is written by Billy Strayhorn. Notice how he switches from chords to unison just at the right moments. And thats all, 12 bars of intro and 1 chorus of the song.

In 1957 the same arrangement was captured live on tape, and later released on the album All Star Road Band. On this occasion, the solo responsibility was left to Shorty Baker instead of Clark Terry who was still in the trumpet section. The arrangement was also expanded with an extra chorus. Baker plays beautifully, and I must admit that I prefer his interpretation to Terry’s. Notice his quote from the verse at the end. This once again shows that an Ellington arrangement was never set in stone, and that he constantly worked on improving his music.

#7: Stormy Weather is composed Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, and was premiered by Ellington at The Cotton Club in 1933 with Ethel Waters on vocal. The same year the band recorded an instrumental version. The song also appeared in the film Bundle of Blues with Ivie Anderson on vocal, and in 1940 she recorded it on disc.Here i will focus on the 1933 instrumental version and compare it to 1953.

Like most of the songs on the album, Stormy Weather is also in AABA form, but with a slight difference. The 2nd and 3rd A is expanded to 10 bars, instead of the usual 8.

Stormy Weather 1933, 1st chorus

Intro(6 bars) (0:00)A1(8) (0:15)A2(10) (0:38)B(8) (1:06)A3(10) (1:28)
Solo piano Saxes
Solo: Whetsel Accompaniment: SaxesSolo: Williams Acc: SaxesSolo: Brown Acc: SaxesSolo: Brown Acc: Saxes

The 1933 version starts with a short fanfare based on the first phrase of the tune, and then trumpeter Arthur Whetsel enters, playing the melody with solo tone mute. On A2 trumpeter Cootie Williams is playing the melody with plunger mute, and then trombonist Lawrence Brown takes over on B and A3. The second chorus, Ellington skips the first two A’s and jumps straight to B.

Stormy Weather 1933, 2nd chorus

B(8) (1:56)A(13) (2:19)
Solo: Carney
Acc: Brass
Solo: Bigard
Acc: Brass and saxes.

Harry Carney is the baritone sax soloist on B, and on the last A Barney Bigard takes over on clarinet. At the end, the last phrase repeats while the tempo gradually slows down. Sonny Greer’s vibraphone ends the track.

On the first chorus, the soloists are accompanied by the saxophone group throughout, and on the second (half) chorus the accompaniment is by the brass, except for the ending where the saxophones returns. A bit monotonous you could say, but by doing so, Ellington puts the focus on the soloists. What makes the record interesting to listen to, are the soloists and the different variations and colours they add to the song. The contrast between Whetsel’s sweet tone playing and Williams growl trumpet for example, or Carney’s playing on the top of his horn followed by Bigard in the lowest register of the clarinet is huge. I also find it interesting that Ellington chose to have Brown play two sections of the song instead of one like the other soloists. By doing so he avoids monotony just at the right moment. Another more subtle variation is that bassist Wellman Braud switches to 4 beat on the B sections.

Stormy Weather 1953, 1st chorus

Intro(2bars) (0:00)A1(8) (0:06)A2(10) (0:29)B(8) (0:59)A3(8) (1:24)
Rhythm sectionSolo: Carney Sustained chordsSolo: Cook (cup) +unison saxesSolo: Nance (plunger)
Repeated fig.
Solo: Carney Trombones

The 1953 version, arranged by Billy Strayhorn, takes a similar approach. After the intro, Harry Carney plays the melody on baritone sax. A2 is Willie Cook on cup muted trumpet, and trumpeter Ray Nance plays B with the plunger. Then Carney returns for A3.

Comparing this to the 1933 version, we see that the approach is similar in many ways. The idea of having multiple soloists presenting the tune is the same. Carney is still at the top of his horn, but this time playing the A section. Cook has taken over Arthur Whelsel’s sweet tone role, and Nance is now doing the plunger work, but on the B section instead.

The accompaniment, on the other hand, is quite different. The harmonies are more advanced, and the instrumentation is more varied. It starts with some mysterious sounding chords that grab your attention right away. B is saxes with clarinet lead doing a repeated rhythmic figure behind Nance, and then the trombones takes over on A3. It is also worth noting the transitions from A1 to A2 played by the saxes, and from A2 to B played by Ellington.

Stormy Weather 1953, 2nd chorus

C(12 bars) (1:49)A(12) (2:27)
Solo: Anderson
Solo: Anderson

But what follows now really makes the arrangement stand out from the 1933 version. Here Strayhorn breaks away from the AABA form by introducing a new 12 bar section. It has Cat Anderson playing first in the normal range of the trumpet, and then, on the A section that follows, playing in the extreme high register that he mastered so well. This new section is actually taken from Ethel Waters 1933 recording of the song and appears to be unique for her (to my knowledge at least). Anderson does a great job with the solo, and the accompaniment fits like a glove. The A section that follows is the climax. After that they bring it down, and it all ends with a mysterious Ellington piano solo.

#8: Cocktails for Two is written byArthur Johnston and Sam Coslow and debuted in the film Murder at the Vanities in 1934. Ellington appeared in several films around that time, including the previous mentioned Belle of the Nineties. Coslow was a songwriter at Paramount Pictures, and it was due to him that the Ellington band appeared in Murder at the Vanities. While in Los Angeles they also found time to make commercial recordings of many of the hit songs from the movies, including Cocktails for Two. Here I will focus on that recording and compare it to the 1953 version.

This is yet another AABA song, and Ellington’s 1934 treatment is similar in many ways to the other 30s recordings mentioned in these articles. The song is played 3 times with a 4 bar piano intro, and the melody is present all the time, and played by many different soloists. When studied a little closer, there are of cause some interesting details worth pointing out.

Cocktails for Two 1934, 1st chorus

Intro (0:00)A1 (0:08)A2 (0:23)B (0:38)A3 (0:54)
Solo pianoSolo: Carney
Accompaniment: Muted tpt’s and open trombones
Solo: Whetsel (cup) Acc: TrombonesSaxes and WhetselCarney and saxes

As can be seen from above, the melody is distributed between Harry Carney on baritone sax, Arthur Whetsel on cup muted trumpet and the saxophone section. The accompaniment, on the other hand, is more varied than usual. On A1 Carney is answered by the muted trumpets, but after 4 bars the trombones takes over. On B the melody switches back and forth between the sax section and Whetsel, and on A3 Carney is back with the tune for 4 bars, and then the sax section takes over.

Cocktails for Two 1934, 2nd chorus

A1 (1:09)A2 (1:25)B (1:41)A3 (1:57)
Solo: Brown
Acc: Saxes
Brown and saxesBrassBrown and saxes

On the second chorus, trombonist Lawrence Brown is introduced as a new soloist. On A1 he is accompanied by the saxes, and A2 is a dialogue between the two. Then the brass takes over on B, and on A3 we are back to the saxes and Brown’s solo trombone.

Cocktails for Two 1934, 3rd chorus

A1 (2:13)A2 (2:29)B (2:45)A3 (7 bars) (3:01)Ending (3:15)
Solo: Bigard
Acc: Brass
Sim.Solo: Hodges
Sustained brass chords
Solo: Brown
Tutti acc.

On the third chorus, clarinettist Barney Bigard is the new soloist. He plays the first two A’s accompanied by the brass section playing a repeated staccato figure. Johnny Hodges, alto sax, picks up the melody on B, but now accompanied by sustained chords. Brown is back on A3 accompanied by the full band.

On the 1953 version the harmonies are much more advanced, and the soloists depart much further from the melody. The tempo is also slower and the bass has switched from two to four. But the idea of having many soloists adding their personal touch to the song is the same. Walter van de Leur doesn’t list this arrangement in his book, but I don’t think there is much doubt that this is a Billy Strayhorn arrangement.

Cocktails for Two 1953, 1st chorus

Intro (0:00)A1 (0:11)A2 (0:32)B (0:54)A3 (1:16)
Rhythm sectionSolo: Tizol
Acc: Tutti
Sim.Solo: Nance
Acc: Saxes
Solo: Nance
Acc: Tutti

Juan Tizol is the main soloist on his C valve trombone, pitched one tone higher than a standard trombone. He plays the melody in legit style, and is answered by some curious double time figures played by the rest of the horns. The juxtaposition between the sentimental melody and the mysterious harmonies is very unusual, but also very enjoyable. On B, trumpeter Ray Nance is the soloist accompanied by sustained saxophones chords. This accompaniment gives him plenty of freedom to play with the song, which he takes good advantage of. On A3 the accompaniment becomes more active again.

Cocktails for Two 1953, 2nd chorus

A2 (1:38)B (2:00)A3(6 bars) (2:22)Ending (2:39)
Solo: Hamilton
Acc: Saxes and trombones
Solo: Gonsalves
Acc: Bass and drums
Solos: Gonsalves, Tizol
Acc: Saxes and trombones?
Rhythm section

It is common practice to skip the first two A’s on the last chorus, especially on ballads. We heard that in My Old Flame and Stormy Weather. But on Cocktails For Two, Strayhorn/Ellington only skips A1, witch is very unusual. We have two new soloists here, Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet and Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax. On B he is backed only by bass and drums as a contrast to all intricate harmonies. Gonsalves plays B and the first 4 bars of A3, and then Tizol gently enters with the melody again, and the record ends with Ellington’s piano like it all started.

Author: Rasmus Henriksen

Film versions:

My old flame, Belle of the Nineties (1934):

Three little words, Check and Double Check (1930):

Three little words, The lady refuses (1931):

Flamingo, Soundies (1941):

Story Weather, Bundle of Blues (1933):

Cocktails for Two, Murder at the Vanities (1934):





Uncredited liner notes from Premiered By Ellington (Capitol H440)

Liner notes by Stanley Dance from The Complete Capitol Recordings (Mosaic CD box)

Ted Gioia: Did Duke Ellington and George Gershwin Have a Secret Rivalry?

Walter van de Leur: Something To Live For (Oxford University Press)

John Edward Hasse: Beyound Category (Omnibus Press)

Fred Glueckstein: Murder at the Vanities (DESS Bulletin nr 3, September 2016)

Fred Glueckstein: Belle of the Nineties (DESS Bulletin nr 3, September 2017)

Thanks to Sven-Erik Baun Christensen for helping identifying the soloists.