Duke Ellington: Prima Bara Dubla


Prima Bara Dubla


Duke Ellington and His Orchestra


Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Newport 1958 (Mosaic 1014)

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Duke Ellington (piano), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax),

Clark Terry, Cat Anderson, Harold “Shorty” Baker, Francis Williams, Ray Nance (trumpets), Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman, John Sanders (trombones), Russell Procope (clarinet, alto sax), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet, tenor sax), Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax), Jimmy Woode (bass), Sam Woodyard (drums)


Composed by Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn


Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 3, 1958


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Whole careers, it was said, could be rejuvenated with a single triumph at the Newport Jazz Festival. Case in point: Duke Ellington in 1956. Never mind that, far from languishing in the doldrums before causing a sensation at Newport that year, Duke had grossed, according to the ever-materialistic Time magazine, between $500,000 and $700,000 annually, with his sidemen collecting "the highest pay in the business." Despite its untruth, the myth of a faded star magically rehabilitated amidst Newport's sea air, trees, history and haut monde set journalists to salivating like Ulanov's dogs (not to be confused with Pavlov's pooches, who wouldn't have known Duke Ellington from the Duchess of Windsor).

Following Duke's 1958 NJF appearance, Columbia Records tried to make lightning strike twice by issuing mostly in-studio retakes, plus overdubbed canned applause, a technique with which they'd successfully duped consumers two years before. Thankfully, for the 2007 reissue of Newport 1958, Mosaic Records restored the undoctored retakes sans phantom audience, and coupled them with six live tracks actually recorded at Newport. Among the latter, "Prima Bara Dubla" stands out.

In 1958, jazz's two most significant baritone saxophonists were unquestionably Harry Carney, longtime heart of Duke's nonpareil sax section, and Gerry Mulligan, who'd helped Miles Davis give birth to the cool and subsequently spearheaded the early '50s West Coast Jazz phenomenon. Pairing the two saxophonists in a new Ellington/Strayhorn piece composed expressly for them was one of those inspired ideas not even Columbia Records could botch.

Ellington & Strayhorn wrote to each baritonist's strength, capitalizing on Carney's low-note majesty and Mulligan's upper-register mastery, although both men play equally well across the bulky horn's entire range. Guest stars didn't always mesh well with Duke's band, and one-off festival arrangements were too often throwaways. But throughout his career, Mulligan demonstrated not just an eagerness to play with jazzmen of earlier generations, but an uncanny ability to fit in with them without sacrificing his own essential modernism. And of course, even a one-off festival arrangement is likely to be memorable when the names Ellington/Strayhorn adorn the score.

"Prima Bara Dubla" is a droll, lilting, mostly two-beat treat that sinuously showcases Harry & Gerry but also makes deft use of the full band. It's a worthy addition to the discography of either Ellington or Mulligan. To the dual discography of Ellington and Mulligan, it is joyfully unique.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz

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