Duke Ellington

Things Ain't What They Used to Be

Composed by Mercer Ellington / Ted Persons

Song Review by

Mercer Ellington’s best known composition is surely the blues “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” which was premiered on a 1941 small group session under alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, with Duke Ellington also taking part. It quickly drew the attention of other big band leaders of the era; Glenn Miller, Charlie Barnet, Les Brown and Harry James all added the song to their repertoire within a short time. This robust piece naturally became a great solo feature for Hodges, though it wasn’t so closely identified with him as to be dropped from the band book following the death of the alto saxophonist in 1970. It was a frequent part of Ellington’s concerts, with his last documented performance taking place on March 5, 1974 at the Dade County Auditorium in Miami, just over two weeks before his fatal illness forced him to finally give up the road for good. “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” has long since entered the jazz canon, with memorable interpretations by artists such as Oscar Peterson, Stuff Smith, Jim Hall, Joe Pass and Dave Brubeck. But one of the finest examples comes from the 1963 recording The Great Paris Concert, naturally featuring Johnny Hodges with Duke Ellington.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Greatest Hits [CBS Special Products] 1963 Sony Music Distribution 3:47
Private Collection, Vol. 1: Studio Sessions, Chicago 1956 1987 Saja 0:00
The Great Ellington Units 1988 Bluebird RCA / RCA
Duke Ellington [Highland] 1991 Highland Records 3:46
Happy Birthday, Duke! The Birthday Sessions, Vols. 1-5 1992 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 8:16
Best of Duke Ellington: Original Capitol Recording 1992 Blue Note 6:19
Happy Birthday, Duke! the Birthday Sessions, Vol. 3 1992 Laserlight 8:16
Duke Ellington Centenary Collection 1993 Musicmasters 4:45
Gold Collection [Deja Vu] 1994 Deja Vu 3:00
Big Band Classics, Vol. 2 1994
Various Artists
Castle Music Ltd. 3:15
Caravan 1996 History 3:09
Big Band Masters 1996 Laserlight 3:06
More Greatest Hits [RCA Victor] 1996 RCA Victor 3:06
Jazz Big Names, Vol. 2 1996
Various Artists
Musidisc 3:31
How Do You Duke 1996 Jazz World 3:55
The Private Collection, Vol. 2: Studio Sessions, 1957 & 1962 1996 Kaz 6:51
Legends of Jazz [Eclipse] 1997
Various Artists
Eclipse Music Group 3:55
A Portrait of Duke Ellington [Gallerie] 1998 Gallerie 3:10
No Image 1998 Affinity
V-Disc Recordings 1999 Collectors' Choice Music 3:18
Anniversary 1999 Masters of Jazz 3:20
Classic Duke Ellington 1999 Charly Records 3:07
100 Anniversaire 1999 EPM 3:09
Legends of the 20th Century 1999 Capitol / EMI Records 6:20
Blue Serge 1999 History 3:39
Chelsea Bridge 1999 History 3:18
No Image 1999 Columbia 2:59
The Duke - The Essential Collection: 1927-1962 2000 Legacy / Columbia 2:59
The Best of the Complete Duke Ellington RCA Victor Recordings, 1944-1946 2000 RCA Victor / RCA 3:07
Swingin' with the Duke 2000 Varèse Vintage / Varese 3:17
Jazz Collection [Delta] 2000 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 6:00
Jazz Collection: Kings of Swing [#1] 2000
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 3:17
Fun Time Jazz [2 Disc] 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 6:31
Back to Black: 1900-1999 2001
Various Artists
Universal International 3:08
Duke Ellington, Vol. 1 2001 Platinum Disc 3:19
Swingin' 2002 Brentwood Records 5:37
The Duke: Edward Kennedy Ellington and His Orchestra 2003 Proper Sales & Dist. 3:39
No Image EMI / EMI Music Distribution
No Image Prestige Elite Records
No Image Blue Note / EMI Digital 6:17