I’m not alone in considering Duke Ellington one of the great composers of the 20th century. His oeuvre traces the story of jazz, ragtime and gospel music in a way that made him an obvious choice for the state department tours of the 1960s that brought his orchestra around the world as ambassadors of American culture. Those experiences brought Ellington and Billy Strayhorn into contact with some of the traditional musical styles of Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean, and they wasted no time syncretizing those elements into new works for the orchestra.
I have long loved works like the “Far East Suite” and the “Latin American Suite”, but until recently I was unaware of the 1965 Ellington album Concert in the Virgin Islands. Like those other works, it was recorded in New York after the orchestra had returned from tour, and it features pieces that might be called homages to the lands they had visited. Most of the songs are vehicles for individual band members, including a lovely arrangement of “Chelsea Bridge” that features Paul Gonsalves. “Virgin Jungle” highlights the impeccable clarinet work of Jimmy Hamilton.
I spent a couple long hours shoveling out my neighbors’ and my house today. With 25 inches of snow on the ground, that’s hundreds of cubic feet. By the end my hands were shaking and my back was sore, so I went straight from one of the tortures of winter to one of the joys of winter: hot chocolate and Dave Brubeck!
On his album Time Further Out Dave closes side one with this cool blues, and opens side two with a faster recap of the theme before Joe Morello takes an extended drum solo. In the liner notes he says the whole album was inspired by Joan Miro’s paintings, which search for new meanings in old familiar forms.
This reminded me of a video I took out of my local library long ago. A small excerpt featured Duke Ellington’s trio playing this blues while Miro himself looks on, leaning against one of his sculptures in a courtyard. I have written out the main theme here, which two years later became “The Shepherd Who Watches Over The Night Flock”, part of Duke’s Second Sacred Concert.
So there you have it. Two different blueses dedicated to Joan Miro.