New big band jazz project offers rare and unheard Duke Ellington tracks

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Noted pianist Garry Dial, along with saxophonist Dick Oatts and conductor Rich DeRosa, team up with WDR Big Band to perform Duke Ellington’s lost tracks.

Story behind the music

Few things I enjoy more than a good story–a good story about music is one not to be missed. As I discovered how Dial came to own the scores for Ellington’s unheard songs, I could see the documentary that should accompany this story.

Even without an audio-visual component, the story deserves to be told. In 1979, Dial was hired by Ellington’s sister, Ruth Ellington, to record the bandleader’s entire Tempo Music catalogue in alphabetical order. The music existed in various forms: sketches, scores, and published lead sheets. Ellington was prolific and it took Dial three months to work through the material.

When it was time to record, Ruth’s tiny poodle, Bravo, wouldn’t stop barking. Dial suggested he copy the scores and go home to record. He still has the files. Later, Dial teamed up with DeRosa and Oatts. In 2015, DeRosa was lead conductor and arranger for WDR Big Band.

With the blessings of Ellington’s family, Dial, DeRosa and Oatts, along with  WDR Big Band, recorded Ellington’s lost tracks. The rest is musical history.

The sound of “Rediscovered Ellington”

Songs such as “I Like Singing,” “Just a Gentle Word from You Will Do,” and “Kiki” sound like classic Ellington. “Hey, Baby” is startling in how contemporary it sounds.

The instruments create a full sound. No section is timid or otherwise overshadowed by another. The drums have a good pulsing feel when they are not beating out a true jazz clatter. The trumpet sounds particularly warm, especially in solos.

There are only nine songs on this release. So fans must wonder if there will be additional recordings from the treasure trove of lost songs, and that remains to be seen.

About Duke Ellington

I try to include notes about jazz history whenever I can to emphasize the genre’s importance. I have been made aware that some people believe that “they’ve stopped making jazz.” I am not sure who “they” represents, but it isn’t true.

At the same time, there are individuals new to jazz, and new to music history. Classic performers like Duke Ellington are worthy of discussion.

Ellington was a Washington, D.C. -born jazz musician. Born in 1899, he became established in New York City’s jazz scene. By the time Ellington was 24, in 1923, he had become a bandleader. It was a position he would hold until his death in 1974.

Ellington’s contributions to jazz probably cannot be summed up here, but I will try. He was a prolific songwriter and skilled pianist. One of his most famous songs is “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” Ellington’s sound is classic jazz, classic swing. High tension moments of  soaring horns at full volume, can be stripped down to soft piano and drums in a matter of seconds. The style and energy of each piece can be felt. These are some of the reasons Ellington’s work stands the test of time.

“Rediscovered Ellington” will be available Aug. 18, 2017.

 

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