Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (Victor)

The second of Ellington's three 1927 "Black and Tan Fantasy" recordings disproves the adage that the Third Time's a Charm, since this is the one enshrined in Grammy's Hall of Fame. The performance is dated by Hardwick's smarmy alto sax, a taste best left unacquired. Plumber's helpers also abound, as Miley's growling trumpet trades rude noises with Nanton's whinnying trombone. And, yes, that's Chopin's "Funeral March" at the end. Yet whether intended as highbrow art music or floorshow underpinning, "Black and Tan Fantasy" still conjures phantoms after all these years. For, as one critic marveled at the time: "Beneath all its oddity and perverseness there was a twisted beauty that grew on me and could not be shaken off." Twisted beauty? That was undoubtedly Duke's idea.

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (OKeh)

Ellington's growing musical maturity from the 1920s through the 1940s is one of the most remarkable stories in the history of jazz. At the time of "Black and Tan Fantasy," Duke was still in the early stages of this unprecedented evolution, but already we see his ability to craft a distinctive musical mood, to tell a story through the medium of his band. Here he presents a late-night dreamscape, both menacing and alluring, one that must have drawn many patrons back to the Cotton Club, where Duke had recently started his four-year stint leading the house band. Trumpeter Bubber Miley helped craft this memorable piece, both as composer and through his solo efforts. But on this date, 18-year-old Jabbo Smith -- a near-legend of 1920s jazz -- subs for Miley, and handles the trumpet chores with aplomb. One wonders what Smith might have accomplished had he accepted Ellington's offer to join the Cotton Club band. Duke completists will want to compare this track with the Brunswick and Victor versions, each featuring Miley.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (Brunswick)

A timeless classic of early big-band jazz, this was perhaps the first Ellington tune to really capture the ears of the music industry. It reveals that much of Dukeís compositional character was already in place by 1927: the layering of multiple themes, shifting of moods and tempi, and plenty of freedom for players like Miley and Hardwicke to express their own personalities. This reissue is sullied by poor-quality, scratchy masters that GRP apparently didnít bother to clean up, but that doesnít take much away from the enjoyable performance.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments


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