The best of the big jazz bands are really collections of soloists, and there has never been a more consistently good collection of soloists than the one which goes under the title of Duke Ellington And His Orchestra. Duke has always used men with strong, individual sounds and has encouraged them to project their personality onto his music.
No band playing Ellington material can ever carry off a perfect imitation of the Duke's band — unless it happens to have about seventy-ﬁve per cent of the Ellington men in its ranks.
The small groups drawn from within the full band tend to sound like Ellington splinter groups even when the Duke is absent, so large and commanding is this great man's shadow. And it is not long before a new Ellingtonian takes on the mantle of the Duke's music. Norris Turney, for example, came into the band in 1969, which makes him still a new boy in the eyes of long-term Ellington followers; he has had a long and interesting career in jazz including a spell with the Billy Eckstine orchestra in 1946 when his colleagues included Fats Navarro and Art Blakey. But since 1969 he has been stamped an Ellingtonian.
Ray Nance took Cootie Williams' place in the Ellington trumpet section on November 7, 1940. Williams's departure (to join Benny Goodman) so stunned the jazz World that Raymond Scott wrote a tune called When Cootie Left The Duke. Nance weathered the storm of unfair comparisons which were made whenever he took Cootie's solos and remained in the band until June, 1965 (With a couple of breaks in 1945 and 1964). Paul Gonsalves left Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra in September, 1950 to answer a call from Duke and has remained in the Ellington saxophone section ever since. Indeed a Ducal reed team without Paul is almost unthinkable. These then are the men whose unique appreciation of Ellingtonia coloured the two record dates which Stanley Dance and
Michael James supervised in New York during the summer of 1970. Duke's band, or rather a scaled down Version comprising Cat Anderson, Booty Wood, ﬁve reeds and rhythm, spent part of the summer playing at New York's Rainbow Grill. Dance reported in Jazz Journal that the booking was something of a social event. Celebrities such as Earl Hines and Harold Arlen called in to meet and hear the Duke and when Ellington went down with a Virus for three days his place at the keyboard was taken by French pianist Raymond Fol, who was over in New York on holiday. (Fol was no newcomer to the Ellington atmosphere; in 1950
he played on a series of record dates under Johnny Hodges's leadership featuring a contingent from the Duke's hand then touring Europe.)
The ﬁrst session features a quintet comprising Gonsalves, Nance, Fol, drummer Oliver Jackson from the JPJ Quartet and that perennial bassist Al Hall, who had been working with Hazel Scott's trio. Lotus Blossom was one of the loveliest songs written by the late Billy Strayhorn and Paul Gonsalves breathes deep-seated emotion into every bar. Nance plays an introduction on violin and plucks the strings behind Paul in the middle-eight of this one-chorus performance.
On the original 1941 recording of Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin' Ray Nance played the middle-eight of the ﬁrst chorus which otherwise featured Ben Webster. On this 1970 version Ray takes the same role but this time the tenor saxophonist is Paul Gonsalves. Nance sings the second chorus and splits the third one with Paul. Hi Ya Sue was ﬁrst done in 1947 when Tyree Glenn was in the band; in fact Glenn's highly vocalised trombone took the place of a blues singer. Here the quintet plays the band riff as a theme and there are solos all round (apart from Jackson) with Gonsalves contributing a particularly memorable and swinging statement. On 4th July 1970 the Newport Jazz Festival staged a special birthday tribute to Louis Armstrong. Ray Nance chose to play I 'm I n The Market For
You to an appreciative audience and it is probably safe to say that Louis's 1930 recording of the tune was one of Ray's early inspirations. At the recording date a month later Stanley Dance persuaded Nance to repeat his Newport Version of this neglected song and Ray obliged with both trumpet and Vocal choruses. He picks up his Violin to play the verse of Tea For Two before Gonsalves comes in on tenor to play the chorus. Fol, Nance and Paul solo before the end.
The album was completed six days later when Norris Turney joined the quintet and the immaculate Hank Jones took over from Raymond Fol. Turney on alto, Nance (muted trumpet), Paul Gonsalves and Hank Jones solo on Duke Ellington's B.P. Blues, a number which the full band invariably use as a showcase for Harold Ashby. Ray Nance takes the centre stage for a thoughtful Don't Blame Elle and one is reminded of Leonard Feather's accurate assessment of this underrated musician. “Ray Nance” wrote Feather “has been known primarily as a comedy personality in the Ellington band. Because of an excessive accent on grotesque visual mannerisms He has obscured the fact that he is one of the most brilliant and versatile musicians in jazz, endowed with a trumpet tone sometimes as soulful as Bunny Berigan's, and capable of swinging on the violin like very few other modern jazzmen”. Matt Dennis's lovely Angel Eyes turns the spotlight on Norris Turney whose strong and beautiful alto playing brings to mind Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter in equal quantities.
Paul Gonsalves - Tenor saxophone
Norris Turney [b] - Alto Saxophone
Ray Nanace - Trumpet, Violin & Vocal
Hank Jones [b] - Piano
Raymond Fol [a] - Piano
Oliver Hall - Bass
Oliver Jackson - Drums
1. B. P. Blues [b] (Ellington)
2. Lotus Blossom [a] (Strayhorn)
3. Don't Blame Me [b] (McHugh & Feilds)
4. Just A-Settin' and A-Rockin' [a] (Ellington & Strayhorn)
5. Hi Ya Sue [a] (Ellington)
6. Angel Eyes [b] (Dennis & Brent)
7. I'm in the Market for You [a] (Hanty & McCarthy)
8. Tea for Two [a] (Youmans & Caesar)
Recorded 28th August [a] & 3rd September [b] 1970 NYC, USA
Black Lion BLP 30138 STEREO
Reissued 1991 & 2003 BLCD-760148