Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Willis Conover hosts Duke Ellington - 3

Today: "Sepia Panorama", with an important breakthrough for the role of the string bass in jazz

Again, from the last regular (and posthumous, produced by David Bodington, Conover's last Studio Engineer) broadcast in August 1996 of Willis Conover's "Music USA", in which Duke Ellington highlights an historic precedent from a previously unreleased concert by the his orchestra in Fargo, North Dakota, on 7 November 1940:

"We have a title here which was put on a number, one of the performances--one of the great perfromances of Jimmy Blanton [1918-1942], who--we have always felt brought about the renaissance of bass playing, and that gave much more freedom to the bass players."

Conover: "What had been happening up until the time that Jimmy Blanton began to solo with you, Duke?"

Ellington: "Well, it was a matter of the bass player being in the position of accompanist, or foundation man in the rhythm section, rather than doing anything that was outstanding, more or less, in the solo role. But Blanton, of course, had this wonderful faculty of combining the foundation, and also giving it a solo quality too, in spite of the fact that he was an accompanist, more or less."

Ah, an important milestone in the emergence of the string bass player as a soloist in his own right, and noted in Duke's own voice, no less!

He goes on to share, with his inimitable cadence, another delicious historical morsel: "Incidentally, the title of this number was given to us by Dinah Shore [1916-1994]. We had this number with no title on it, and she suggested it! And here it is, "Sepia Panorama".

If you listen carefully to this recording, you can hear frequent instances of Blanton inserting solo running melodic lines on his own in between the passages of conventional "walking" bass that was previously one the main idioms of the string bass--fulfilling, as Ellington noted, a primarily rhythmic role:

Willis announces, after playing the selection: "'Sepia Panorama', in a rare performance
--rare as it was performed, and rare in the sense that, so far as I know, this particular performance has not ever been broadcast before this Voice of America broadcast." Be sure to listen here to Willis' full outro, praising Ellington's verbal prowess, which leads to a rare on-air embarrassed "ooops" moment by the Duke.

Then listen again, in the next entry, to Ellington's quick and eloquent retort in introducing the next selection, "Shish Kabab"!

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