Duke Ellington: Cotton Tail


Cotton Tail


Duke Ellington (piano)


Ken Burns Jazz: Duke Ellington (Columbia/Legacy CK 61444)

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Duke Ellington (piano),

15-piece band featuring Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Jimmy Blanton (bass), Sonny Greer (drums)


Composed by Duke Ellington


Recorded: New York, May 14, 1940


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Duke Ellington is jazz's most intimidating figure. His reputation (20th Century's Greatest Composer) is exceeded only by his mountainous output. For a mere reviewer to do the Maestro justice would demand years of fulltime listening and study. AND NO TV! Luckily, for the indolent among us, there is "Cotton Tail." Starting abruptly (no intro), "Cotton Tail" hops like an indecisive rabbit in a newly discovered cabbage patch, dramatically expanding from Ben Webster's magisterial solo to a crisp brass unison and sensational sax section soli, only to trail off surprisingly to Carney & Blanton's final low note. No PhD required. Enjoy.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz

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  • 1 jridetroit // Aug 20, 2008 at 09:47 PM
    This is indeed a great example of what made Ellington's 1939-42 band unique in his long career. Rumors have bounced around for years that this is, in fact, a "head" arrangement concocted without any input at all from Ellington or Strayhorn, and the atypical sax section "tutti" here would seem to bear that out. My guess is that it started life as a rehearsal warm-up piece, created in fits and starts while the band waited for maestros senior and junior to show up, and once heard by them, was tweaked and fluffed into what we now hear. It is, after all, essentially "Rhythm" changes, which would lend credence to its humble, jam session beginnings. A rumor I don't buy into is that the sax ensemble itself was created by Ben Webster. It contains none of Webster's signature phrasing, and the melodic figures aren't any that one would find elsewhere in his vocabulary. If one isolates a melody from this chorus, and imagines it to be the solo creation of one of the sax players, it tends to sound instead like something Harry Carney might play, with it's staccato attack, but elongated melodic construction. Amazing stuff, this. The first time I heard it, it reminded me of Supersax, in that it uses unison voicings in a relatively complex, fast piece.
  • 2 mariana // Feb 23, 2009 at 07:28 PM
    thanks for letting us learn about history!!!!!!!!!
  • 3 Roger Strong // May 24, 2009 at 05:26 AM
    This was one of the greatest sax sections ever in jazz-one that Ben Webster made even greater. I see someone mentions Supersax-but this recording is from 1940 ! These guys did it first! I'm not sure just how many times Duke recorded this again but there is a great version on the Fargo live date recorded November 1940-worth looking for.