Duke Ellington

In the Tivoli Gardens

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This DVD contains two nearly complete concerts taped on the same night at the Tivoli Gardens in 1971. Although Duke Ellington lost several important musicians the previous year (Johnny Hodges died, while Cat Anderson and Lawrence Brown retired), he still had a number of veterans on hand, plus a few new and promising players. But one of the greatest surprises was the special guest appearance of Ben Webster, one of the major stars of Ellington's heralded band of the early '40s. Webster steals the show with his solo features of "All Too Soon," "I Got It Bad," and "Cotton Tail," all of which he first popularized with Ellington. Other new features include "Fife" (also known as "Fyfe"), showcasing Norris Turney on flute (an instrument that had not been utilized in the band prior to his arrival), two takes of the brand-new "Chinoiserie," two versions of the four tenor sax battle of the blues introduced by the leader as "Quadraped" (later known as "In Quadruplicate"), a showcase for drummer Rufus Jones (named after him), as well as a strutting blues called "Goof" featuring Johnny Coles on flügelhorn. There are also plenty of hits: "Take the 'A' Train," "Rockin' in Rhythm," and "C-Jam Blues" (though the second version is joined in progress), as well as the inevitable "Satin Doll" and two long medleys of other hits. On the down side, tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves seems to be inebriated, showing up late without a tie after the opening number of the first show, prompting a joke by Ellington, departing the stage unexpectedly after another number (with the leader amusing the audience about an important phone call), but playing well below his abilities, especially in an erratic rendition of "Happy Reunion," his normally terrific ballad feature. Money Johnson's Louis Armstrong impression in "Hello Dolly" may have been a crowd pleaser but it comes off rather sappy. But the most bizarre track is the contemporary R&B-flavored "One More Time for the People," a completely forgettable number featuring mediocre vocalists Nell Brookshire and Tony Watkins strutting their stuff along with Ellington. While most of the band participates in the mock revelry, including Ben Webster, Cootie Williams is noticeably absent, as he regularly stormed off the stage until he finally gave in after Ellington kept calling for the tune over numerous concerts. These shortcomings should hardly keep Ellington fans from purchasing this 140-minute DVD, as the camera work, sound, and editing are first-rate, as are most all of the performances themselves.