You really do have to treasure these men. We didn’t realise how lucky we were.

SteepleChase SCCD 36507

Johnny Hodges (alto); Ray Nance (trumpet, violin, vocal); Lawrence Brown (trombone); Harry Carney (baritone); Al Williams (piano); Aaron Bell (bass); Sam Woodyard (drums)

Recorded at Falkoner Centret 17 March 1961

Well-honed musicians schooled in Ellington texts. There are twenty pieces in the seventy minutes of playing time by this group. Duke Ellington was in Paris, writing the score for the film ‘Paris Blues’. There was free time for the band, so impresario Norman Granz pulled some of them together, under the leadership of Johnny Hodges, and set up a tour. One of the concerts was held at the Sportpalast in Berlin and eventually a 2CD recording was issued by the Pablo label. Another concert took place in Paris and was issued on the Fremaux label. This, the Copenhagen concert, is a new issue.

Ellington devotees shuddered at Ellington concerts when the dreaded medley was signalled. Ellington explained that many in his audience expected to hear some his popular pieces, so he assembled the hits together to get them out of the way before presenting some new work.

This album is like an extended medley: most of the pieces are around three or four minutes, only ‘Perdido’ is longer. The individual musicians go through what they longer. normally played on Ellington concerts. Johnny Hodges graces ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’. Lawrence Brown slides through ’Rose Of The Rio Grande’. Harry Carney brings out ‘Sophisticated Lady’ and finishes with the long note and the circular breathing that he performed on every Ellington concert. Ray Nance, an excellent trumpet player also sings ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ and ‘Just Squeeze Me’.

Al Williams has the unenviable task of playing the Ellington role. He has the long introduction to ‘Perdido’ and that is his main contribution to the evening.

It is always good to hear these musicians. They all had their own individual sound, the sound as important as the content they played. Hodges was the most important alto player in the pre-Parker era. Strayhorn’s writing brought out his romanticism. Harry Carney’s sound was as mature and satisfying as black tobacco, always worth listening to even when he is on auto pilot. Many in the audience would leave the concert hall with a warm feeling knowing that they had seen legends: Hodges, Nance, Carney, Lawrence Brown, Sam Woodyard.

There are no surprises here and little improvisation. The absence of Ellington means that there is no one to challenge them. The main players are the spine of an Ellington band that was about to embark in the sixties on a journey that would produce the ‘New Orleans Suite’, the ‘Far East Suite’, The Afro Eurasian Eclipse’, ‘The Latin American Suite’, ‘Suite Thursday, the ‘Goutelas Suite,’,’ The Uwis Suite’, ‘The River Suite’, , ‘TheTogo Brava Suite’. Here they are relaxing on a well-paid European holiday playing pieces that they could negotiate in their sleep. You really do have to treasure them. We didn’t realise how lucky we were.