REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » ELLINGTON, Duke: Tootin' Through the Roof (1939-1940) (Duke Ellington, Vol. 6)
DUKE ELLINGTON Vol.6
‘Tootin’ Through The Roof’ Original Recordings 1939-1940
As pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader, Duke
Ellington’s accomplishments throughout his 49 years (1925-74) as the head of
his orchestra are enormous. One of
his greatest feats was his ability to hire sidemen with unique tones and styles
and somehow blend them together to form a unified ensemble sound.
The band he had in 1939 is a good example of this talent at
work. Most big bands of the swing
era had at the most three or four top soloists, usually a trumpeter, a
trombonist and perhaps two saxophonists.
Ellington had eight. Of the
six non-soloists, Wallace Jones was used as a lead trumpeter, valve trombonist
Juan Tizol was valuable in the ensembles, altoist Otto Hardwick was in the band
more for sentimental than musical reasons (since he was an original member of
Ellington’s Washingtonians in the mid-1920s) as was the largely inaudible
rhythm guitarist Fred Guy, Billy Taylor was a fine ensemble bassist and drummer
Sonny Greer was an underrated timekeeper who added colour to the band. In other orchestras they would be among
the stars but Ellington also had eight very original voices to feature.
Cootie Williams, who succeeded Bubber Miley in 1929, was
both a specialist with mutes (achieving colourful tonal distortions) and an
excellent open trumpeter.
Cornetist Rex Stewart gained fame for his false fingerings and
half-valve techniques in addition to his wide range and wit. It would have been difficult to find
two trombonists who sounded more different than Lawrence Brown and Joe “Tricky
Sam” Nanton. While Brown’s
technique was impressive and he could play as warmly as Tommy Dorsey, Nanton
was able to create otherworldly sounds with his mutes. Clarinettist Barney Bigard had a New
Orleans tone and the ability to make complex lines sound effortless. Johnny Hodges was the unrivaled leader
among altoists in the 1930s (only Benny Carter was close) and his beautiful
tone on ballads made him a major attraction although he could also dig into
blues and stomps too. There were
no significant baritone-saxophonists before Harry Carney and his huge tone is
still the standard among baritonists.
And as for the pianist, Ellington was influenced by Willie “The Lion”
Smith and James P. Johnson but had developed his own percussive style by the
late 1920s and would remain a modern soloist throughout his career.
As 1939 began, Duke Ellington was 39 years old and had been
a famous name for nearly a dozen years, ever since he and his orchestra debuted
at the Cotton Club in 1927. Renowned for the many standards he had already
written, Ellington had played swing before the swing era began, with his 1932
song proclaiming “It Don’t Mean A Thing If I Ain’t Got That Swing.” The great success of Benny Goodman in
1935 launched the big band era but, rather than being crowded out by the
competition of scores of new groups, Ellington’s orchestra simply rose above
the field, creating music in its own category that could not be copied.
Tootin’ Through The Roof has twenty of Duke Ellington’s
finest recordings of 1939 and early 1940, cut for the Columbia label before
Duke switched to Victor. The
program begins with Doin’ The Voom Voom, a song first recorded by Ellington in
1929 and featuring three of Duke’s most famous soloists: Cootie Williams,
Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney. In
addition to spots for Nanton, Carney and Brown, Wallace Jones gets the early
melodic lead on Serenade To Sweden.
One of Ellington’s most enduring (and joyful) originals from the period
is Portrait Of The Lion, his spirited tribute to Willie “The Lion” Smith. Lady In Blue succeeds as both dance
music and creative jazz, with subtle and expressive playing from Brown, Carney
and Williams. The ensembles are in
the spotlight during the driving and catchy Solid Old Man other than short
spots for the contrasting trombones of Brown and Nanton and some fills from the
Ivie Anderson was Duke Ellington’s main vocalist during
1932-43 and is considered the best of all of his singers. She is featured on the bluesy In A Mizz
(one of only two songs on this set not written by Ellington), the rambunctious
I’m Checkin’ Out Goo’m Bye, and the obscure A Lonely Co-Ed. Between them, Bouncing Buoyancy” and
The Sergeant Was Shy (which is based on “Bugle Call Rag”) have statements from
all seven of Ellington’s horn soloists with the latter even including a brief
spot for Guy’s chordal guitar.
In 1939, there were two important additions to Duke
Ellington’s mighty orchestra that made the big band even stronger. Earlier in the year, Billy Strayhorn
joined as Duke’s right-hand man, contributing compositions and arrangements in
a style similar to Ellington’s, filling in occasion-ally on piano and writing
lyrics. In the late summer, Jimmy
Blanton replaced Billy Taylor as the band’s bassist. Blanton revolutionized the string bass by becoming its first
important soloist, improvising with the fluidity of a guitarist and playing
inspiring notes in the ensembles and behind the other musicians.
Blanton’s presence is very much in evidence from the start
of I Never Felt This Way Before, playing quiet doubletime lines behind the
haunting ensemble. He drives the
band on Grievin’ which is a surprisingly celebratory performance. Ellington would compose and record many
musical portraits during this era, with Weely paying tribute to Billy
Strayhorn, who is heard briefly on piano between the solos of Stewart and
Carney. Tootin’ Through The Roof
is climaxed by Rex Stewart and Cootie Williams taking a famous cornet/trumpet
It was a measure of Duke Ellington’s great respect for Jimmy
Blanton that he chose to accompany his bassist on a pair of unprecedented
duets, Blues and Plucked Again.
This combination of instruments had never recorded together before in
this type of format and Blanton really comes through.
In early 1940, Ben Webster joined the band as Ellington’s
first major tenor-saxophone soloist.
Grouped with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young as one of the big three of
swing tenors, Webster had a sound influenced by Hawkins but a simpler and
warmer style of his own. The 14 February
1940 session, which features remakes of four Ellington hits, has Webster heard
in short solos on the first three numbers along with singer Ivie Anderson. Solitude and Mood Indigo are two of
Duke’s most famous songs while Stormy Weather, which is more closely associated
with Ethel Waters and (a little later) Lena Horne, was popularized by Ellington
early on. Tootin’ Through The Roof
concludes with an inventive remake of Sophisticated Lady that gives listeners a
final chance to hear the beauty of Hodges, Carney and Brown.
While Duke Ellington’s orchestra of 1940-42 is often rated
by jazz historians as his finest band, the selections on Tootin’ Through The
Roof show that his 1939-40 edition was quite classic too.
– author of eight jazz books including Duke Ellington,
Swing, Jazz On Record 1917-76 and Trumpet Kings
Last Albums Viewed
ELLINGTON, Duke: Tootin' Through the Roof (1939-19...