Duke Ellington: Medley – Things Ain't What They Used To Be / Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me (1964)

This version of the best-known tune by Duke's son, Mercer, is quite different from Ellington's 1941 original. Played live in a dancehall, it is rousing and faster, with great dynamics; and 23 years later, Johnny Hodges plays even more lyrical, soulful, passionate and creative lines. Here the tune is the first half of a medley, the second being the much-loved "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," with one of the most marvelous and memorable of all Duke's melodies. Trombonist Lawrence Brown is featured, playing creative thematic variations with great verve, rich tone and a fine lyrical feel. The medley is highly enjoyable stuff!

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Things Ain't What They Used To Be (1941)

This song was written by Duke's son, Mercer, and features the great Johnny Hodges as the lead guy for a small group offshoot from the full Ellington band. The tune eventually became quite popular. The track opens with the distinctive, memorable theme played ravishingly by the full (small group) band. Hodges then does a beautiful bluesy thematic takeoff that deepens the tune's soulful feel, and follows up with additional excellent, deep-felt alto. Duke plays a stylish piano interlude, adding interesting harmonic dimensions and emphases, after which Ray Nance offers sultry trumpet variations and embellishments with superb blues slurs and accents. Soon the full band richly fills out the theme. This is an excellent addition to the Ducal music library, with the genius, gorgeous tone, and style of Johnny Hodges at the forefront.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Things Ain't What They Used to Be

Miles Davis once famously suggested that Oscar Peterson sounded like he had to learn how to play the blues. To which I reply: dang, he certainly learned 'em. There are flashier blues by Peterson available on the marketplace—for example, check out "Blues Etude" if you want fireworks. But this version of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" shows that this pianist could also play a more subdued blues. This is Oscar in a Basie vein, just strutting over the changes. Bassist Ray Brown does not solo, but you will be forgiven if you find yourself focusing on his walking lines, as reliable as Greenwich Mean Time, and much, much hipper. The piano trio has changed a lot since this band recorded Night Train, but this music is timeless.

September 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington & Ray Brown: Things Ain't What They Used to Be

This recording, made 18 months before Ellington's death, aimed to recapture the magic of the Duke's 1939-1941 collaborations with bassist Jimmy Blanton. The selection of Ray Brown for Ellington's sparring partner here is inspired. Brown exemplified the Blanton tradition on bass, demonstrating it on a nightly basis with his big tone and solidly swinging walking lines. On "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," Brown fills up the soundscape, and provides so much rhythmic momentum that Ellington can cruise. I picture the pianist smiling, as if he has been given the chance to take the most turbocharged vehicle in the showroom out for a test drive. You could listen to a hundred piano-and-bass duets and struggle to find another example of two musicians locking together so completely in their groove. Hats off to Ellington and Brown, and also to producer Norman Granz who enticed Duke outside of the fortress of his big band and into a new setting where something fresh and different could happen.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Desmond: Things Ain't What They Used to Be

Desmond's live recordings at Toronto's Basin Street club, made less than two years before his death, rank among my favorite post-Brubeck performances by the altoist. He stretches out lazily over the songs -- the tracks from Basin Street all range from 7 to 12 minutes -- and plays with great relaxation and melodic inventiveness. Professor Desmond offers a textbook in thematic improvisation, playing without reliance on memorized licks or patterns, no scales or technical grandstanding. But you will be having so much fun you won't even realize that jazz school is in session. Desmond is the anti-Coltrane here, creating solos that are so lovingly constructed, phrase by phrase, that they literally serve as new melodies to old changes. On "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," as on many of the Toronto tracks, Desmond takes two solos, one immediately after the opening melody and a second following the bass improvisation, and it's hard to say which wins top honors. Both are taut and clever, without wasted energy. In between, listeners are treated to a lengthy excursion by the underappreciated Ed Bickert, a tasteful soloist who never disappoints. Ah, I wish we still had this band around to enjoy, but things truly ain't what they used to be.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: Things Ain't What They Used To Be

It's a matter of historical record. Jim Hall was born in Buffalo. What we can't figure out is which section of Buffalo produced such a bluesy jazz guitarist. Is there a Delta buried beneath all that Lake-effect snow? On this track from his debut as a leader, Hall is joined by another New York native, bassist Red Mitchell, and Indianapolis's Carl Perkins on piano (no, not the rockabilly originator of "Blue Suede Shoes") for a composition by Mercer Ellington, who like his somewhat better known papa was born in Washington, DC. Amazingly, this city-slicker confederacy of Yankees yields such easygoing, laid-back blues as would make even dyed-in-the-cotton Mississippians tap a toe or two in approval. Mitchell's solo is an especial broken- slatted front-porch down-home delight.

THIS JUST IN:  We can now report that as a child Jim Hall moved with his family to Cleveland. Now that explains everything.

February 15, 2008 · 1 comment

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