Duke Ellington: C Jam Blues
C Jam Blues
New York, December 2, 1959
Blues In Orbit (Columbia 65419)
Duke Ellington (piano, composer), Ray Nance (trumpet, violin), Britt Woodman (trombone), Booty Wood (trombone), Matthew Gee (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Russell Procope (clarinet, alto sax), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet, tenor sax), Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Jimmy Woode (bass), Jimmy Johnson (drums).
Rating: 92/100 (learn more)
Duke Ellington wrote “C Jam Blues” as a simple way to showcase his musicians. Its first appearance was in a “soundie”, a short film made for a video jukebox. In it, Duke walks into a café, sits down and starts playing. Gradually, more and more Ellingtonians show up (naturally with their horns in hand) and join in on the jam session. By 1959, when the present version was made for the LP Blues In Orbit, the tune had been in Ellington’s band book for 18 years. Yet, this version still manages to include a few surprises. Duke starts off the proceedings as usual, followed by the band playing the head in unison. Ray Nance steps up to the microphone with his violin, and something must have surprised the band members, because you can hear them laughing in the background. Nance makes effective use of double-stops both at the beginning and the end of his solo. When the break comes up (traditionally used to introduce the next soloist), Nance keeps playing! He takes up a figure from Ravel’s “Bolero” and Hodges joins in. Oddly, neither Nance nor Hodges plays the next solo. Instead, Britt Woodman plays on open trombone, and he is followed by Paul Gonsalves on tenor (Woodman’s and Gonsalves’ solo turns were cut for all releases except the expanded CD reissue above). Booty Wood was a specialist on plunger-muted trombone and his jocular solo is backed up by the saxes playing a fairly standard background riff. But what is Jimmy Hamilton playing back there? Just a set of octaves with the top note trilled, but those octaves are on D, which is the ninth of the chord, and they certainly sound strange in this setting! Hamilton drops the octaves in Wood’s second chorus, and then the clarinetist takes the final solo, soaring over the band in the final bars.
Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe