Louis Jordan: Take The A Train

Louis Jordan, one of the original creators of R & B and a key influence on the development of rock 'n roll, is best remembered today for his irrepressible vocals on such '40's hits as "Caldonia," "Saturday Night Fish Fry," "Let the Good Times Roll," and "Five Guys Named Moe." But look past Jordan's jump band jive and you can't help but admire his alto saxophone playing, so swinging, piercing, and zestful. Let's not forget that he honed both his alto and vocal skills with Chick Webb's orchestra before breaking through on his own in the '40's with his Tympany Five. He was as much a jazz musician as an R & B or blues performer, and considered himself to be such.

Less than two years before his death in 1975, the then 65-year-old Jordan recorded this instrumental version of "Take the A Train" at a session in Paris, a track that was not released until the CD reissue in 1992. Listening to it, one wonders what Duke Ellington's orchestra might have sounded like with Jordan in the sax section and as a featured soloist (and singer!). The theme is taken at standard Ellington pace and harmony between Jordan's alto and Irv Cox's tenor, while Duke Burrell lays down some Dukish chords and phrases. Jordan enters his solo with a clarion call before suavely gliding through a series of interconnected and engagingly bluesy riffs, motifs, and exuberant shouts. His trades with drummer Archie Taylor are a little one-sided, as Taylor seems to be a better timekeeper than improviser. Burrell's fills during the horns' hearty reprise even top those of the pianist at the beginning of the piece, adding to the reverent authenticity pervading this small group treatment.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Take the 'A' Train (1963)

This track, like its even better companion from the same album, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," gives us fascinatingly different sound, texture, feel, approach and style on a classic Ellington tune because of the rather unique mix of instruments and musicians: Duke on piano, masterfully playing in a way that works well with the other musicians and instruments, as usual; French violinist Stéphane Grappelli, who teamed with legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt for historic recordings in the '30s; Ellingtonian multi-instrumentalist Ray Nance on violin; Svend Asmussen on viola; plus bassist and drummer.

With sustained hi-hat work providing perfect background texture, Ellington plays a stylish, characteristic intro that offers tantalizing hints of the main musical theme and sets the scene for the main course. That begins with Grappelli's striking entry, with his violin slicing through the musical air like a hot knife through butter, playing interesting, vivacious, creative variations on the theme. After a couple of full choruses, Ray Nance's violin, with a slightly darker tone, takes off from Grappelli's lines and plays some jazzy variations. An interesting bass interlude is next, with Shepard doing some cool talk-singing/scat (and sounding a bit like Dizzy Gillespie) in unison with his basslines. Grappelli returns for a beautiful final rendition of the theme. This is a unique and marvelous version of the Ellington theme song.

March 20, 2009 · 3 comments


Roy Eldridge, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie: Take The 'A' Train

Oscar Peterson's spectacular intro and first statement of the famous musical theme is worth the price of admission by itself; he plays with brilliant timing, creative harmonics, verve, and some perfectly placed behind-the-beat notes, making positively rhapsodic jazz piano lines. Even better news: Eldridge, Gillespie and Peterson continue the great music-making for a full eight minutes before the track ends.

After Oscar's opening lines, Dizzy takes an extended lead with muted trumpet, playing highly creative lines, sometimes punched out, sometimes flowing, and using a varied tonal palette, all of which only occasionally hints at the basic melodic theme, but works wonderfully in its advanced musical expression. Eldridge then takes the lead, effectively accompanied by Ray Brown's walking basslines, in perfect stride; Roy's trumpet carries a huskier tone, sounding more subtle and soulful, with blues slurs adding feeling. Peterson follows with more of his jazzily ravishing piano work, and the trumpets offer further creative virtuoso lines as this track rolls on. Billy Strayhorn's classic tune has again launched impressive, innovative improvisations by genuine masters of the music, in this case with especially great rhythm and momentum.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Take The 'A' Train

Of the four studio albums by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet (including “Sonny Rollins Plus 4”), “Study In Brown” is doubtlessly the weakest. Most of the songs are short and the performances seem less committed than on the other albums. On “Cherokee,” Brown seems unable to match his earlier Blue Note performance, and this version of “Take The' A' Train” tries to pack in as much arrangement as possible to the detriment of the soloists. While Brown, Roach and Harold Land all acquit themselves well in their 2-chorus solos, one wishes for more, especially at the fire-breathing tempo set by Roach. When the solo time is so truncated, it’s easy to lose patience with the long intro and coda that portrays the starting, speeding, slowing and stopping of the train. I suspect this may be an arrangement by pianist Richie Powell, who wrote many fine charts for the quintet, but whose musical immaturity in soloing and writing sometimes put a drag on the entire group.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: Take the 'A' Train

Just take the A Train, if you want to get to a hoedown in a hurry. . .

On the Tiffany Transcriptions, which capture Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys on a series of post-WWII radio broadcasts, the band goes beyond its "Western Swing" stylings and shows off the full range of its repertoire, covering signature songs from Count Basie, Benny Goodman and this swing tune from Duke Ellington's orchestra. This is a lighthearted version of "Take the 'A' Train" with hoots and hollers and a running commentary from Mr. Wills, who comes across like the caller at a square dance. Like many of the Tiffany tracks, this one emphasizes the strings to good effect, and the end result is like a cowboy version of Django's band, an expanded Quintette du Hot Club de Texas. I didn't know the New York subway line went that far, but this is one ride that's worth an extra token.

January 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Ella Fitzgerald (with Duke Ellington): Take the 'A' Train

Matching Ella Fitzgerald with the Duke Ellington Orchestra on its signature tune is a surefire winner. But when you add Dizzy Gillespie to the band, this goes from "A Train" to "A+ Train" with extra AP credits to boot. Everybody is in fine form, and Dizzy shines. But Ella returns after the trumpet interlude and declares that she is taking over this "A Train" and all its passengers. She seems undecided whether she should scat or sing the lyrics, so she settles the matter by doing lots of both, but even when the song seems over and the train is pulling into the station, she stretches out the coda for a full extra minute, and her closing exchanges with the horns are an absolute delight. If I were a passenger, I'd stay on for at least five more stops.

October 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Joe Henderson: Take the 'A' Train

Joe Henderson's melodic tenor sax shines brilliantly in a duet setting. He has certainly performed several such over the years, and creates a seamless flow of musical expressions in this format, especially when spurred on by talented younger players. On this well-worn Ellington/Strayhorn standard, two musicians, their ages separated by nearly 30 years, form a magical partnership, with elder statesman Henderson propelled by a young but sensitive drummer. The tune's instant familiarity allows the listener to easily follow their explorations and even anticipate their direction. Hutchinson, for his part, plays brilliantly behind Henderson, making the listener aware of his thoughts but never upstaging the tenor journeyman. Taking an economical approach to a staple for the big bands of yesteryear, this duo proves surprisingly lively and enjoyable. Respect for the man, respect for the music is very obvious in this fine performance.

April 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Take the 'A' Train (1941) – as heard in Woody&nbsp;Allen's <i>Radio Days</i> (1987)

In 1941, Duke Ellington escaped the bondage of jungle music via an underground railway called the ‘A’ train. Duke's motorman Billy Strayhorn, picking up a carload of familiar Swing Era passengers—catchy theme smoothly stated by saxes, punchy punctuation from the brasses, steady rhythmic pulse—transports us to Sugar Hill in Harlem, a destination just this side of paradise. Combining Benny Goodman's precision with Count Basie's nonchalance, Ellington's band rode its own express line to immortality. If you're looking for a single track to both epitomize and justify the Swing Era, take the ‘A’ Train.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments


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