Duke Ellington: Warm Valley

This track is a prime example of Ellington writing for the nature and musical strengths of one of his great soloists. In this case, it's a vehicle for the rich tone, exquisitely flowing lines, and creative artistry of alto sax master Johnny Hodges. "Warm Valley" was not about earth topography, but rather about womanly contours and feelings (in both senses). And the ability of Johnny Hodges to blow the most sensuous lines was well employed.

The song is described as a ballad, and is a beautiful one. But it also takes a step in the direction of subsequent pieces that really transcended ballads to be more like tone poems featuring the glorious alto playing of Hodges. The following year's "Passion Flower" was among the first of them. Here, Johnny's sublime alto work is complemented by fine muted trumpet lines and fulsome, lovely ensemble playing from the full band, with several crescendos in the right places adding beautifully to the feel of the tune. Some would probably give this a higher rating; for me, it simply isn't the most thrilling sort of tune, though the pure aesthetics are appreciated.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Jerome Richardson: Warm Valley

Jerome Richardson was one of the best and most successful musicians on the New York scene during the last golden age of the recording industry. He combined a studio musician's versatility and professionalism with a jazzman's flexibility and intuition. In addition to being a recognized heavyweight among jazz flutists, he was seemingly the only saxophonist capable of playing first-rate jazz on all four saxes, from soprano to baritone, sounding like a specialist on each. His skills on the soprano inspired its use by Thad Jones, and thus Jerome can also be said to have indirectly had a huge impact on contemporary jazz arranging.

Jerome's baritone style combined a bebop-oriented harmonic conception with articulation and tone quality derived from Harry Carney. Though the Carney connection is thrown into bold relief by the selection of this Ellington masterpiece as a baritone feature, Jerome is totally his own man here. His sound employs a well-balanced combination of warmth and edge, and his articulation is crystal-clear in all registers, with none of the tubbiness that usually afflicts players who double on baritone. His solo is masterfully constructed, and his double-timing is fluent and always musical. His ability to combine boppish fluency with Ellingtonian warmth is beautiful to hear. Richard Wyands is his usual warmly lyrical self as both accompanist and soloist.

December 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Earl Hines: Warm Valley

Duke Ellington introduced "Warm Valley" in 1940 as a feature for Johnny Hodges with the outstanding Ben Webster-Jimmy Blanton edition of Duke's orchestra. According to Rex Stewart, the tune was inspired by Duke's gazing at a range of hills from a train window: "Just look at that, it's a perfect replica of a female reclining in complete relaxation, so unashamedly exposing her warm valley."

Although Earl Hines first met Ellington in 1925, and was a close friend of Johnny Hodges, he never played "Warm Valley" until the day he recorded it in 1971. Hines laid down numerous Ellington compositions in four sessions between 1971 and 1975, but was very selective. Some of Duke's tunes were just too orchestral in nature, or too dependent on a particular soloist, or too harmonically complex to learn on short notice, or were rare examples of Duke's own intimate solo piano pieces and better left alone. While "Warm Valley" was a challenge, Hines one of the most important and creative pianists in jazz history more than perseveres, despite a slightly tentative start. A probing intro leads to emphatic chords and a provocative interpretation of the lilting melody. His darting runs, ringing tremolos, touches of stride, and intricate, almost acrobatic two-handed counterpoint, make for an enthralling combination. There is a starkness and refreshing unpredictability to his attack, and after the sudden introduction of a waltz tempo, his approach becomes more regal and densely orchestral. Then he returns to more linear overlapping phraseology and an intermingling of lines. Hines's amazing final chorus clearly shows how much he directly or indirectly influenced pianists such as Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell, Monk, and even Cecil Taylor. Magnificent, and accomplished in only one take! Hines's "trumpet-style" piano is timeless.

September 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page