Duke Ellington: Never No Lament


Never No Lament


Duke Ellington & His Orchestra


Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band (RCA Bluebird 50857)

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Duke Ellington (piano, composer), Wallace Jones (trumpet), Cootie Williams (trumpet), Rex Stewart (cornet), Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton (trombone), Juan Tizol (trombone), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Otto Hardwick (alto sax), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Fred Guy (guitar), Jimmy Blanton (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).

Recorded: Los Angeles, May 4, 1940


Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

I wonder how Duke Ellington reacted when he was asked to turn his instrumental "Never No Lament" into the pop song "Don't Get Around Much Anymore". While the opening phrase was catchy enough, his recording was not set up like a pop-song-in-waiting. There was a main section and a bridge, all right, but the bridge only appeared twice amongst 9 appearances of the A section. And the bridge, as it is was originally written, had a snappy motive of a descending minor second that did not translate to the vocal version.

Ellington loved to play formal games during this period, and it's fascinating to listen to the 1940-42 Victor sides just to hear how Duke changed the standard patterns. The recording starts with the trumpets playing the melody over the saxes' retorts. In the next eight, Ellington plays a variation with Lawrence Brown filling in the gaps. So, 2 eight-bar A sections, so it's time for B, right? Not for Ellington. He goes right back to the top of the form, giving two more A sections to Johnny Hodges before heading to the bridge. (This is risky, because the B section of most songs are in a different key, and the modulation prevents listener fatigue. If you've ever heard Jim Croce's song "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song" and wondered what was odd about it--other than the grammatically incorrect title--it's that the song doesn't have a bridge, so it goes on and on in the same key ad infinitum). Ellington's ensemble plays the bridge and Hodges plays another A section. As Cootie Williams takes over, the song starts to behave like a normal pop song with Lawrence Brown taking the bridge after 2 A sections. The trumpets play the final A, but that's not the end of the record. Ellington closes the side by going back almost to the beginning of the arrangement, combining his piano variation from the second eight with the sax retorts from the first eight, thus tying up the recording with a elegant variation.

Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe

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