Another fine snapshot of Duke Ellington’s band as of
March 25, 1952 was “Duke Ellington: The 1952 Seattle
Concert,” originally issued by RCA Victor in 1954 and
reissued on CD under the Bluebird label in 1995. As Jazz
authority Joe Morgenstern noted in his liner note essay,
alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, trombonist Lawrence Brown
and his longtime drummer, Sonny Greer, were replaced
for this session by Willie Smith, Juan Tizol, and Louie Bellson,
respectively. They had been “procured” from the
Harry James orchestra, only to be rehired by James at
a later date! In fact, Tizol had been with the Ellington
orchestra before joining the James orchestra in 1944.
These “comings and goings” of musicians between various
Swing bands were quite common, and it’s interesting to
compare the different sounds of the bands during these
various periods in their histories.
This Seattle gig is a case in point. With the two numbers,
“Skin Deep” and “The Hawk Talks,” the impact of
Louie Bellson as a player and composer was particularly
impressive. Much of the seven-plus minutes of “Skin Deep”
featured a Bellson solo, with his double-bass drum technique at
the fore. He was only with Ellington’s band for slightly less
than two years, leaving the group in early 1953.
“Harlem Suite” was the longest and most ambitious
selection on this 53-minute CD. Written in 1950, it was
a commission by the NBC Symphony Orchestra,
and existed in Symphony orchestra and Jazz orchestra
versions. The performance recorded here highlighted
a sophisticated arrangement for Big Band orchestra
alone, and the subtle instrumental blends were
factors setting the Ellington orchestra apart from other
Big Band groups.
The digitally remastered sound on this reissue was quite
good, although the soloists were captured more brilliantly
than the full ensemble. With his selection of the pieces
performed and support of the individual musicians,
Duke Ellington’s voice was heard throughout, thereby
creating the aforementioned “snapshot” of this special
ensemble, circa 1952.