Duke Ellington: Daybreak Express
Duke Ellington (piano, composer)
Duke Ellington, “Creole Rhapsody” (ASV 2015)
Duke Ellington (piano, composer), Arthur Whetsol (trumpet), Freddie Jenkins ( trumpet), Cootie Williams (trumpet), Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton (trombone), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto sax, soprano sax), Otto Hardwick (reeds), Barney Bigard (clarinet, tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Fred Guy (guitar), Wellman Braud (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).
Composed by Duke Ellington.
Recorded: Chicago, December 4, 1933
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
Unquestionably one of Duke Ellington’s masterpieces, “Daybreak Express” is one of the most thrilling train rides ever recorded. Almost entirely written-out (there is minimal improvisation by Johnny Hodges and Cootie Williams), this was a showcase for the burgeoning talent of Ellington and his ensemble. In condensing an express train ride into three minutes, Ellington packs lots of musical details into his score. The opening, with the train starting from a standstill and gradually getting up to speed, is now a cliché, but is played here as if it were the freshest idea in modern music. Not content to simply use a train whistle, Ellington augments the whistle with horns from the band. As the train races along the countryside, the saxophones perform one of the most difficult ensemble choruses ever devised. Finally, Cootie Williams takes the role of engineer, encouraging the train on with his trumpet and then putting on the brakes as the train reaches its final destination. Although Ellington rarely played the work in concerts, it turns up in a 1937 Paramount short film, Record Making With The Duke and the Victor recording was used as background music for D.A. Pennebaker’s film Daybreak Express. Pennebaker’s film was first shown in New York before the feature The Horse’s Mouth (1958). The Criterion DVD recreates the billing and also includes a short introduction by Pennebaker.
Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe