Ellington festival takes 'A' train to City Hall
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer
"It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." "Mood Indigo." "Sophisticated Lady."
And this weekend's Duke Ellington Festival celebrates the amazing musical legacy of the legendary composer, pianist and bandleader.
The two-day event also celebrates the Smithsonian Institution, National Endowment for the Arts and State Department's first annual recognition of April as "Jazz Appreciation Month," and continues the city's Hawai'i Ethnic Heritage Series.
Tonight, Honolulu Hale gets decked in the garb of a "1940s nightclub" for The Duke Ellington Revue, a musical stage show featuring the composer's better-known compositions done by a host of local vocalists and musicians. On the Civic Center grounds Saturday, The Duke Ellington Jazz Festival will feature performances by Azure McCall and Honolulu Jazz Quartet, Abe Weinstein's Jazz Band, and Moonlight Jazz Trio, among others.
Should the weekend leave you inspired to do some Ellington collecting of your own, here's our list of essential discs to help you start.
"Ellington at Newport 1956 (Live)," Sony, 1999 reissue. Its centerpiece is a side-by-side "Diminuendo In Blue" and "Crescendo In Blue" bridged by a patience-testing 27 chorus solos by saxophonist Paul Gonsalves that nearly put the Newport Jazz Festival audience in riot mode. There are other live Ellington recordings you're free to buy later, but this is the one to own first.
"Money Jungle" (with Charles Mingus and Max Roach)," Blue Note, 1962. An edgier and more experimental-sounding Ellington on piano gets into musical fistfights with legends in their own right, Mingus (on bass) and Roach (on drums).
"Duke Ellington and John Coltrane," GRP, 1962. How could any Ellington collection be complete without the era's best tenor sax man practically making love on vinyl to "In A Sentimental Mood"?
"The Far East Suite," RCA, 1966. Inspired by tours of the Middle East and Japan, Ellington invites his best players into the studio to check out his vacation slides. The resulting mix of Eastern musical influences and traditional jazz ideas doesn't make for a pretty first listen, but, oh, the places you'll go thereafter.
"Piano Album," Blue Note, 1989. A testament to Ellington's excellent improvisational piano skills, this collection of classic and then-new compositions recorded in 1953 features a crazy-romantic "Prelude To A Kiss."
And, please, only if you're making serious bank ...
"The Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973)," RCA, 1999. Sure, this collection lists for a whopping $430. But if you're a completist, investing in these 462 selections spanning more than 24 hours of total listening time is a no-brainer to save up for. Short on cash? "The Very Best of Duke Ellington," RCA, 2000, at $11.98 offers an excellent single-disc Ellington 101 course.