Duke Ellington: Beggar's Blues


Beggar's Blues


Duke Ellington (piano)


The Okeh Ellington (Columbia C2K 46177)

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Duke Ellington (piano), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Barney Bigard (clarinet),

Arthur Whetsol, Fred Jenkins (trumpets), Joe Nanton (trombone), Harry Carney (clarinet, baritone sax), Fred Guy (banjo), Wellman Braud (bass), Sonny Greer (drums)


Composed by Johnny Hodges & Barney Bigard


Recorded: New York, May 28, 1929


Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

The elegant Duke Ellington band is a rather surprising source for a track titled "Beggar's Blues." Yet with this tune, composed by those two masters Johnny Hodges and Barney Bigard, Duke's band offers us a beautiful slow blues with great feeling. The piece has a gorgeous, soulful, moving main theme, which is played marvelously by the full ensemble and by parts of it. One of this track's best aspects is an excellent use of different instrumental combinations to not only play the theme and variations, but to create tone textures and atmospheres that enhance the musical experience. Perhaps the finest of these are provided by Hodges and Bigard, with the latter adding a typically beautiful flowing and fluttering, soaring and sliding, creative solo.

But there are two problems. First, while the Duke usually makes the most perfectly appropriate piano contribution to a tune, in the middle of this track he plays a kind of low-grade rhapsodic break at odds with the nature of the song; it is almost as if a recording engineer imported this section from some other, entirely different type of tune and spliced it in. The second problem is either in the original engineering or in this remastering: Wellman Braud's solid, repetitive bassline is so loud and penetrating that after a while the listener feels about two seconds from a massive heart attack. Without the Ellington oddity and the audio problem, my rating would be higher. Indeed, this is one of the most marvelous blues tunes the Ellington band ever produced.

Reviewer: Dean Alger


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