Duke Ellington

Suite Thursday/Controversial Suite/Harlem Suite

  • AllMusic Rating
    6
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

This collection of three separate suites, recorded between 1951 and 1960, were compiled on this 1979 CBS LP. "A Tone Parallel to Harlem," also know as "The Harlem Suite," debuted at a Metropolitan Opera House concert on January 21, 1951. Commissioned by the NBC Symphony Orchestra during Arturo Toscanini's tenure, this ambitious extended tone poem remained a favorite of its composer, who continued to perform it in concert until the fall of 1972. The colorful work's musical interpretation of the many facets of life in Harlem includes Ray Nance's bold cornet declaration of "Harlem!" as well as potent solos by Harry Carney (heard on both baritone sax and bass clarinet), Shorty Baker (trumpet), Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope (clarinet), Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax), and Britt Woodman (trombone). Also debuted during the same concert as "A Tone Parallel to Harlem," "Controversial Suite" had a much shorter life in Ellington's concert repertoire. It was dropped for good following its 1951 studio recording for Columbia. This two-movement suite is full of humor, poking fun at the silly debate between supporters of different jazz styles, including Dixieland, New Orleans jazz, bop, and progressive jazz. Russell Procope makes a rare appearance on soprano sax, an instrument generally omitted from Ellington's recordings after Johnny Hodges quit playing it in 1940. "Suite Thursday" was commissioned for the 1960 Monterey Jazz Festival and gets its name from John Steinbeck's novel. This composition enjoyed a longer life than "Controversial Suite," remaining in the band book until 1963. It stands out among the three works on this LP as having the best solos, particularly Ray Nance on violin. Although alto sax star Johnny Hodges was missing due to illness, Paul Horn fills his shoes adequately. These vintage recordings have been hard to find from time to time, but all of them have since been reissued on various Columbia/Legacy CDs.