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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Melvin Sparks, Influential Soul-Jazz Guitarist, Dead at 64 - Spinner

Melvin Sparks, Influential Soul-Jazz Guitarist, Dead at 64 - Spinner

Melvin Sparks, an acclaimed jazz-soul session guitarist and fixture in the jam-band scene, died March 13 at his Mount Vernon, N.Y. home, according to the New York Times. The 64-year-old's wife said he had battled diabetes and high blood pressure.

Born in Houston, Sparks grew up around music and got his first guitar at age 11. After working as a teenager in R&B bands -- including a stint in the Upsetters, a group founded by Little Richard -- he moved to New York and became a session player for Blue Note and Prestige.

While working for those two famed labels, Sparks played on records by musicians including Jack McDuff and Chares Earland. In 1970, he released his first of three albums, on Prestige 'Sparks!' In total, he released 10 albums as a leader, with 2005's 'Groove on Up' being his latest. In the '90s and '00s, his playing found new fans on the jam-band scene, thanks to more session work and performances with bands like Galactic, Soulive and Phish's Mike Gordon.

Sparks is survived by his wife, Judy Hassan, four daughters, a son and 13 grandchildren.

The Shorter, the hotter - Music - IOL | Breaking News | South Africa News | World News | Sport | Business | Entertainment |

The Shorter, the hotter - Music - IOL | Breaking News | South Africa News | World News | Sport | Business | Entertainment |

IOL Tonight Pic 22 Mar 11 CZ wayne shorter

A music interview often begins by referencing musicians the subject has played with. Wayne Shorter, however, is the kind of living legend that other artists reference.

He was born in New Jersey in 1933, and started playing clarinet at 16 before switching to saxophone, going on to win multiple Grammy Awards (six, at last count, with 13 nominations) and earn honorary doctorates from New York University and the Berklee College of Music, among others.

He’s been declared a “jazz master” by America’s National Endowment for the Arts. His many collaborators have included Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Smith.

Shorter’s influence on modern music has been likened to that of Picasso on modern art, and Ingmar Bergman’s on contemporary film, and he’s still steaming ahead with quartet and symphonic projects that critics consider to be among the most powerful of his career.

He is as delighted and intrigued by life now as he was as a star-struck teen who climbed a fire-escape at a Norman Granz Philharmonic show to hear Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and the clarinet-wielding Ilinois Jacquet. Turns out he also boasts a robust sense of humour.

He presents the interviewer with a dilemma, though. What do you ask the man who co-founded Weather Report, the group that became synonymous with the first wave of jazz fusion throughout the 1970s and early 80s, had his orchestra-meets-improvisation work with outfits like the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw described as “having a feel for melody like Puccini (but with) harmonic complexity like Ravel”? Perhaps the best place to start is with a question about what Cape Town audiences can expect to hear from one of modern jazz music’s most prolific composers.

“Actually, we have a challenge,” says Shorter with the slightest of chuckles. “We have to express some music that is a mirror. We have to reflect what’s going on in this planet in total today. To tell a story that talks of courage and of being fearless in the presence of the unknown. It’s the challenge that has always driven me and, in this country (America) at the moment, there is a hesitance to accept this challenge, and to express that musically.

“People try to give a definition of what jazz means, but my definition of jazz is not a fixed one. It’s an evolving definition that grows when it is fuelled by what people are doing and playing. Jazz is an eternal mission that transcends all strategy and all intelligence.

“So many people have been denied so many things in the world,” he continues. “Your country had that, but your country came through, and the music we will be playing will be celebrating that as well.

“The other challenge of what we do is that we communicate without words, but with sound. We try to find something mystical about life; about what is life. We don’t know what life it, but we can try to answer that question without words, and to celebrate it.

“In this country (the US), really creative music is still an alien concept. It’s like that’s the real UFO in the US these days – being creative and moving forward without fear, and with courage. I like what Sonny Rollins said in a documentary. They asked him why did Dizzy and Miles and Charlie play bebop. Sonny looked at them and said: ‘We played bebop to be human.’”

Shorter has sometimes been described as “the Zen philosopher of jazz”, but closer attention reveals that his thoughts are less esoteric than might first be imagined.

“Most audiences have been conditioned to believe that ratings will tell them what to do, and to try to find more of the same of what is being programmed,” he says. “Nobody should be telling you what to do based on record sales and writing hits.

“We have to be original and creative and fearless, and be more; we have to play, and to gather wisdom along the way. The hesitancy to deal with the unexpected – in other words, for things where there is no university or training to deal with them, like improvisation... In today’s world, that is much needed. That’s what I mean by courage.”

At some point in the interview, after Shorter has bent his critical eye and sharp tongue to the music industry and the arts in America, I joke that he’d best hope the CIA isn’t taping the conversation, or they’ll throw him in jail. At the close of the interview, I thank him for his time and generosity of conversation, and bid him farewell.

“Wait, wait, I have something more to tell you,” he says. “You said CIA, but you don’t know what it means. For me, it means that I’m a Coloured Intelligent American, and you all better watch out. The resilience to listen to music that is different, or to go and see off-Broadway theatre rather than what is popular, or read something different... The Madison Square marketing companies will try and stop it, but it’s intrinsic to the spirit of human life. That’s what my CIA is doing.”

We say goodbye and Shorter, the man Max Roach called “The Flash” and who Davis requested as sideman, is still chuckling to himself.

l The Wayne Shorter Quartet plays on Friday and Saturday at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival on the Rosies indoor stage, for which an additional ticket is required after access to the festival proper (Cape Town International Convention Centre; tickets Computicket at 083 915 8000 or Shoprite). Also at the festival are Earth, Wind and Fire, Feya Faku, Esperanza Spalding, The Flames, Youssou N’Dour, Don Laka, Patricia Barber, Hugh Masekela, Jazzanova, Simphiwe Dana, Cindy Blackman and more. On Wednesday there will be a free concert on Greenmarket Square featuring Hanjin, Gang of Instrumentals, the Cape Town Tribute Band, Tortured Soul and Tribe Of Benjamin. See

Sunday, March 20, 2011

‘Jazz - The Smithsonian Anthology,’ Out March 29 -

Art BlakeyCover of Art Blakey‘Jazz - The Smithsonian Anthology,’ Out March 29 -

LOOK out: there’s a new jazz canon coming toward you. A boxed set of six discs to be released on March 29, it emanates from the Smithsonian Institution; it is called “Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology.” It surveys jazz chronologically, from its complicated beginnings to its just as complicated near-present.

It was assembled by scholars and critics and broadcasters: serious names. It begins with a solo-piano composition by a Texas-born composer whose father had been a slave (Scott Joplin) and ends with a quartet track led by a Polish trumpeter (Tomasz Stanko) who loves Miles Davis. Text drips from the package, an essay for each of its 111 tracks.

You’re energized, right? Your heartbeat just picked up, your amygdala’s plumping out. You want to know what canons usually address: how and where the anthologizers claim jazz started, how they frame it now. And in the middle, how do they really feel about Coltrane, about late Billie Holiday and Lester Young, about Ahmad Jamal, Miles at the Plugged Nickel, Afro-Latinism, cool and free and fusion, live vs. studio, unsung heroes? More: Is jazz a musical language or a philosophy of action, or is it merely a genre, the art that descends from a body of recorded masterpieces? What’s its relation to race, or sensuality, or geography? And what is the deal with its rhythm sections — why do they sound so incredibly different every 15 years? What keeps the music changing? What makes it tick? What is jazz?

I am both invested in and sick of the subject, having written a kind of jazz-canon book myself, 10 years ago. So, caveat lector. But I ask rhetorically, because I’m still working it out: How could such a righteous cultural product, full of so many sublime parts, feel so cumulatively limp?

My first reaction was that maybe we’ve reached our limit, jazz-canon-wise. In the past one of the primary functions of projects like “Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology” was simply to get this music in print, because in some cases you could not otherwise find it: probably not in your local record store or library, not on the radio, nowhere. Back then there was a causal link between a recording’s availability and the possibility of its influence. Now almost every recording ever made is buyable or poachable online: easy come, easy go, and therefore no music needs protection or special pleading. But that’s nonsense. There is still a need for cultural advocacy, even if the culture is easy to find. Meade Lux Lewis’s ferocious “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” on Disc 1 of this collection, was popular in its time and remains easy to locate online. Still, you’ll most likely never hear it unless someone points you there.

Then I wondered if maybe it’s no longer worth exploring what the new jazz reality — say, New York groups like the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s or the drummer Dafnis Prieto’s, or the New York-Los Angeles band Kneebody — might have in common with King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton. But of course that’s wrong too. The connections are there, the closer you listen: in instrumentation, in the compressed balance between composition and improvisation, in the spirit of revision. And all those new jazz musicians have studied the jazz tradition. They may run far and wide, but they know who their parents are.

But maybe the true problem is that “Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology” isn’t really a canon at all. It’s a House of Representatives. What’s missing is its desire to be any more than a list, rather than an argument or a thesis.

It does not lack for facts, this hundred-dollar toolbox. It is not underinformed. It does more, for instance, with free jazz and Afro-Latin music than some others have done. It represents both popular taste and scholarly consensus. It is balanced in all things, even in its split between popular choices and critics’ favorites. So there’s Miles Davis’s “So What,” Bill Evans’s “Waltz for Debby,” Getz and Gilberto’s “Girl From Ipanema,” Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ “Moanin,’ ” etc. — as well as solid to questionable wild-card choices like the Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet’s “Haig & Haig,” Mary Lou Williams’s “Virgo” and Cab Calloway’s “Hard Times.” Its final disc stops at 2003 — a minor alarm, though I’m resigned to low hopes for the final chapters of these kinds of things. You’ll always disagree about the music of your own time.

The new Smithsonian anthology is fair minded, which is to say strangely anonymous. Though the essays are signed, one can’t be sure whether the signers chose the tracks, and you won’t find out how the anthologizers, individually or as a body, really feel about anything in particular. (The boxed set was created by an executive committee of five — the scholars David Baker, Jose Bowen, John Edward Hasse, Dan Morgenstern and Alyn Shipton — and 42 more on the advisory panel: 47 ! And that’s not including yet a few more writers, who wrote track notes.) It comes with no particular orientation or obsession; it can seem as if there’s little at stake.

It is chronological, which of course carries its own logic, if kind of a dull one. It contains a few inspired sequences, like its tour of the mid-’50s, winding through mostly nonobvious tracks from Chico Hamilton, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Sun Ra, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong. But in general the individual tracks don’t talk to one another much, or linger on an artist and take a stand; and while the boxed set represents styles and eras and trends, it seldom leads you toward deeper questions.

The act of listening to it can also elicit a retrospective sympathy for past canons, on page and disc and screen. For instance Charles Edward Smith’s in “The Jazz Record Book”; Marshall Stearns’s in “The Story of Jazz”; Joachim E. Berendt, Gunther Huesmann and Kevin Whitehead’s, in the second edition of Berendt’s “Jazz Book”; Ken Burns’s, in the television documentary and CD series “Jazz;” Allen Lowe’s “That Devilin’ Tune,” covering jazz up to 1951 in 36 discs and a book; and Gary Giddins’s and Scott Deveaux’s, in their judicious book-length history and CD-ROM project from 2010, also called “Jazz.”

All these had causes to defend or stories to tell: the development of jazz as a self-conscious art form; the centrality of the music’s prehistory; the importance of prescient or outlying musicians to jazz history; the role of jazz in healing America’s race trauma. But what the new anthology might make you miss the most is the object it has been designed to replace: “The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz,” compiled in 1973 and revised in 1987 by the critic Martin Williams.

The American jazz-education movement was just taking shape when Williams’s “Smithsonian Collection” appeared, on six vinyl LPs. (It was eventually transferred to CD; it’s been out of print for a while.) The Williams anthology became standard for jazz-appreciation classes, and on first inspection it appeared only to help you demarcate a big story and save time. Stealthily, it also advanced theories. Williams, who died in 1992, could write as if he didn’t know what fun was. But he listened with great depth and vigor, and his canon had funk in its step.

It favored rhythmic innovation above all else. It had little time for singers. It acknowledged masterpieces, but not reflexively or out of obligation. It bestowed major real estate to a small group of creators — particularly Jelly Roll Morton, Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman — and gave John Coltrane an informed kind of short shrift. If you resented any of his grudges from his writing, you saw them carried over into the anthology. (He found Coltrane tedious and Ahmad Jamal shallow.)

Yet the Williams canon radiated a meta-consciousness of jazz as a creative act. It segued versions of the same song by different people; it knitted together Charlie Christian’s guitar solos from different takes of “Breakfast Feud” with the Benny Goodman Sextet into one long, five-chorus improvisation. And it really engaged with Charlie Parker, presenting pairs of alternate takes of “Embraceable You” and “Crazeology,” cutting them off after Parker’s solo, to demonstrate how true an improviser Parker was. This could seem fanciful or time wasting when telling a big story in a small space; but he picked his spots.

All of that was radical, if not even remix-oriented or bloggy before its time. He seemed to understand implicitly that canon making itself was an act of creativity and revision; that a survey of an art form wasn’t the same thing as a survey of its reception. In any case, Williams’s anthology was argued over because it was worth arguing over.

What I’m saying is: If ever there was a place for style to follow subject, for form to follow function, this is the place. A jazz anthology has got to have spark and tension and originality. In order for jazz to feel like an open subject, we need more challenging suppositions about it, whether they translate as pluralistic or exclusive. But perhaps this just can’t be done by committee. I’ve never heard good jazz from a 47-member band.

Monday, March 14, 2011

SFJazz Collective takes on Stevie Wonder: review

Stefon HarrisCover of Stefon HarrisSFJazz Collective takes on Stevie Wonder: review

It takes a brave soul to tackle the music of Stevie Wonder. The latest incarnation of the SFJazz Collective happens to contain eight of them.

Having taken on jazz titans like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk in the past, the group, which played at San Francisco's Herbst Theatre on Friday as part of the SFJazz Spring Season, picked an equally challenging target for its first foray into the pop world.

"We are celebrating the music of one of my great, great heroes," said vibraphonist Stefon Harris. The Grammy-nominated New York musician recalled listening to Wonder's 1976 masterpiece, "Songs in the Key of Life," five times in a row as a kindergartener: "That's when I knew I had a passion for music."

With a blast of horns and a skitter across the vibraphone's bars, intimidation quickly gave way to experimentation at the Herbst. The ensemble features the same lineup for the second year running - Harris, drummer Eric Harland, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, bassist Matt Penman, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Edward Simon, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and trombonist Robin Eubanks.

Together they offered four distinct, loose-limbed adaptations of some of Wonder's best-known tunes alongside several original compositions by the individual band members.

The voluptuous melody of the Wonder-penned set opener "My Cherie Amour" was pulled apart and served up in an expansive jam that saw Zenón spitting back notes and Harland drawing out a maniacal groove while his head tilted back some 90 degrees.

Penman issued a dark-hued deconstruction of Wonder's "Creepin,' " while Turner retained just a few familiar chord changes amid the rousing fanfare of "Blame It on the Sun." Zenón, meanwhile, a Puerto Rican-born musician who studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music, was responsible for the Caribbean influence on the night's most faithful cover, "Superstition." He said he "put a little rice and beans and plantains into it."

The ensemble's sense of adventure spilled over into the new pieces, which veered from Harris' buoyant tribute to his 2-year-old son, "Lifesigns," to the Israeli-born Cohen's meditative, minimalist encore number, "Family." Brave doesn't really begin to describe it.

The collective serves as the house band for SFJazz, the long-running arts organization that also programs the San Francisco Jazz Festival and Summerfest, along with a host of educational services.

The spring season calendar is highlighted this year by jazz guitarist Marc Ribot, playing a live soundtrack score for Charlie Chaplin's classic 1921 film "The Kid" on Wednesday at YBCA Forum; Randy Newman performing a rare solo concert at Davies Symphony Hall on April 22; and 84-year-old Tony Bennett revisiting some of his biggest hits at the same venue on May 28.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kennedy Center's jazz season could use more variety and experimentation

Charlie ParkerCover of Charlie ParkerKennedy Center's jazz season could use more variety and experimentation

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 2011

For years, it was reassuring to see Billy Taylor, perhaps the most eminent evangelist jazz has ever known, sitting in the audience or accepting an award on stage at the Kennedy Center. His vision helped get jazz accepted as a central part of our nation's cultural heritage, with an ambitious mix of large-scale festivals and concerts that make the Kennedy Center one of the greatest venues for jazz in the country.

Although Taylor had long since ceded responsibilities for booking and programming to the Kennedy Center's staff, his death in December left a huge inspirational void. During the first full season without Taylor behind the scenes, the center will pay homage to its longtime artistic director for jazz with a celebratory concert and festival Nov. 11 to 26.

The festival, called "Swing, Swing, Swing," will kick off Nov. 11 with Taylor's bassist and drummer, Chip Jackson and Winard Harper, accompanying an all-star lineup of pianists - Geri Allen, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ramsey Lewis and Danilo Perez - and other musicians.

There will be plenty of vocals during the festival, with Jon Hendricks and Manhattan Transfer appearing together and with George Benson saluting Nat "King" Cole. For participatory fun, the Kennedy Center will open up the grand foyer for swing dancers - complete with dance instructors - and a variety of jazz and swing-oriented groups.

Other jazz highlights of the 2011-12 season include saxophonist Steve Wilson recreating the music of Charlie Parker's remarkable recording with strings (Oct. 7-8); the amazing father-son duo of Dorado and Samson Schmitt performing the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt (with Anat Cohen on clarinet) (Oct. 29); singers Tierney Sutton (Dec. 2) and Jane Monheit (Dec. 17); and trumpeter Nicholas Payton (Feb. 10, 2012).

Every year since 1996, the Kennedy Center has presented the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival - an idea Taylor developed. Some wondered at the beginning whether the festival would last beyond one year. Its success has been a testament to Taylor's vision and to the strengthening position of women in jazz. This year's Grammy Award for best new artist didn't go to Justin Bieber, after all - it went to jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, who will be at the Kennedy Center in May.

It would be nice, however, if the Women in Jazz Festival could look beyond the usual suspects of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves and Geri Allen, who have appeared multiple times. There are dozens of lesser-known artists across the country who are just as deserving of a national showcase, including such singers as Nancy Marano, Lois Smith, Carol Sloane and Wesla Whitfield, pianists Lynne Arriale and Dena DeRose and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.

With the international flavor of jazz becoming more pronounced each year, it's time for a Latin jazz festival - one that looks back to Mario Bauza, Machito and Chano Pozo and shows how the music of the Caribbean basin enriched North American jazz.

One of the great successes of Kennedy Center's jazz program has been its KC Jazz Club, a room that features leading musicians in an intimate cabaret setting. But it is open only four months of the year. When other venues are cutting back on jazz, the KC Jazz Club should be a year-round destination, with regular Friday and Saturday performances, plus Sunday matinees for people who don't like to stay out late.

Finally, several of the events next year seem to have inadvertently pointed the way toward a new programming idea that shows real promise. Drummer Roy Haynes, still relentlessly driving the beat at 85, will appear with his Fountain of Youth Band - young musicians in their 20s - on Oct. 14. Alto saxophonist Phil Woods, who turns 80 this year, will perform with his teenage protegee, saxophonist Grace Kelly, on Jan. 27, 2012.

Taylor often mentored younger musicians, including 21-year-old pianist Christian Sands, who will perform at the Nov. 11 concert in Taylor's honor. What better way to celebrate the memory of the man who launched jazz at the Kennedy Center than by inaugurating a series that brings the grand masters of jazz together with their young acolytes who will keep the music alive?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Duke Ellington, Before My Time | By Nat Hentoff -

Duke Ellington during concert break at Jahrhun...Image via WikipediaDuke Ellington, Before My Time | By Nat Hentoff -

I first had the opportunity of being mentored by Duke Ellington in the 1940s when I was part of the Boston jazz scene. In those days I had a radio show that combined music and interviews, and as a part-time reporter for Down Beat, I got to know Duke. Off the air, he once told me: "I don't want listeners to analyze my music. I want them open to it as a whole."

And I was there when he played dances, just to get as close to the bandstand as I could. One night, the band played a number entirely new to me. During one of their quick breaks I whispered to a sideman, baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, "What's the name of that?"

"I don't know," he said. "He just wrote it."

Another sideman, Rex Stewart, who played trumpet and cornet and with whom I used to hang out, told me—and later mentioned in his book, "Jazz Masters of the 30s"—"He snatches ideas out of the air. . . . On the Ellington orchestra's Pullman, he'd suddenly jump as if a bee had stung him . . . and scribble madly for hours—or sometimes only for a minute."

And I learned to come early to performances. While the band would wait for some late- arriving "stars," Duke would often sit at the piano, improvising intriguing stories, sometimes simultaneously starting a new composition.

After I became New York editor of Down Beat in 1953, I talked quite often with Duke, and was instructed not only in music ("Don't listen by category, but to individuals") but also in his deep interest in the history of his people in this land, which became part of his music.

In 1957, I was very surprised and honored when the RCA Records label asked me, with Duke's approval, to select and write the notes for a compilation, later titled "In A Mellotone," of 1940-42 sides—previously unreleased on album—by what was then regarded internationally as his especially nonpareil orchestra. I felt I had been knighted.

Getty Images
'Chord changes? Listen, sweetie.'

Having treasured his music of that period, I knew little of his earlier recordings on other labels until now, with the release of the invaluably illuminating "The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra" (Mosaic), produced by Scott Wenzel and Steven Lasker. The latter also wrote the deeply researched and absorbing liner notes that are of permanent value to global listeners, including jazz historians of the Ellington phenomenon.

Mosaic's overall executive director is Michael Cuscuna, who has developed jazz reissues into a high art. He and his team search unremittingly for the original masters and then contact the surviving participating musicians to ensure discographic accuracy. They also take care of all licensing requirements and payments to the musicians' estates. Anything on the Mosaic label is—in jazz parlance—"in the pocket."

As Mr. Lasker notes, when the first recordings in this set were made in February 1932, Duke was nearly 33. He had come to New York from his hometown of Washington nine years before with his five-piece combo, Duke Ellington's Washingtonians. The band continued expanding, reaching eight musicians by 1927. The Ellington impact was being felt strongly at Harlem's Cotton Club. At the same time, he was beginning to be heard nationally on the radio. (Being only 2 at the time, I missed those broadcasts.)

During the summer of 1929, the orchestra appeared in Florenz Ziegfeld's revue "Showgirl." Its performance roused that legendary producer to call the orchestra "the finest exponent of syncopated music in existence. . . . Some of the best exponents of modern music who have heard them during rehearsal almost jumped out of their seats over their extraordinary harmonies and exciting rhythms."

Now, thanks to Mosaic, I have almost jumped out of my seat because the sound engineering by Mr. Lasker and Andreas Meyer brings these Ellington orchestras swinging right into the room. As Billy Strayhorn (eventually Ellington's associate arranger) put it in Down Beat in 1952: "Ellington plays the piano, but his real instrument is the band. Each member of the band is to him a distinctive tone color and set of emotions, which he mixes with others equally distinctive to produce a third thing, which I call the Ellington Effect." That characteristic sound is as present in these recordings as it would later be in the 1940s and beyond.

Long ago, Duke explained to me: "A musician's sound is his soul, his total personality. I hear that sound as I prepare to write, and that's how I am able to write." And he added, smiling, "I know their strengths and weaknesses."

He did have a preference for one section of the orchestra. "Duke loves his brass," sidemen would tell me, and throughout these recordings, you hear how gladdened his brass made him, as he would smile broadly when they drove the ensemble. Also, while his band was his instrument, he was a spurring accompanist on the piano.

With the orchestra as his instrument, this collection is an aural kaleidoscope: tone colors, rhythms and tempos of longing, romance, an exultant life force, urgent love and, of course, what he memorialized in his song, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)."

Among the surprises is the vocalist in "St. Louis Blues" on disc one. At first I couldn't tell who it was. He certainly had lived the blues, fitted right into the band and knew how to scat sing. Then it hit me. It was a young, grooving Bing Crosby.

To younger listeners, two of Duke's vocalists during those years may be new: the vividly magnetic Ivie Anderson, and Adelaide Hall. So is a guest, the largely forgotten Ethel Waters, who moved so deeply into the lyrics that her singing had the power of autobiography. Mosaic should issue a boxed set of her career.

Relatively few sidemen left the orchestra. One who did, Ben Webster, told newcomer tenor-saxophonist Harold Ashby: "Vibe the Governor and Rab [Duke and Johnny Hodges] a little smile from me. Now you'll get your Ph.D. in music because you're with the Boss."

I asked Duke what he looked for when he was screening replacements. "He has to know how to listen," he said.

Trombonist Buster Cooper explained what this meant in my book, "American Music Is.": "I first joined the band in a recording studio. He was writing and said to me: 'Buster, I want you to take eight choruses on this tune.'

"I said, 'Fine, but where's the chord changes?' Duke said, 'Chord changes? Listen, sweetie.'"

Duke was always listening intently to the audience. "At a dance," he said to me, "when [alto saxophonist] Johnny Hodges is telling a love story in a ballad, there's sometimes a sigh from someone in the audience. That sigh becomes part of our music."

In 1966 Duke told interviewer Harvey Cohen ("Duke Ellington's America") why he often assured his audience he loved them madly: "I gets a giggle every now and then, but it's true. I love those people madly. . . . You go up there and they react and you can taste it. . . . Oh, maybe 30 years ago I used to think, 'I play for myself. I express me.' And an artist has to please himself first. But . . . when someone else happens to like what you're doing too, this brings on a state of agreement that is the closest thing there is to sex, because people do not indulge themselves together unless they agree this is the time."

The last time I heard from Duke was in April 1974. He was in the hospital for what turned out to be a fatal illness. Visitors told me that Duke, in bed, was still composing. And that April, I—as did others he knew—received a Christmas card from him.

I was startled but not surprised. He always preferred to look ahead, and in case he wouldn't be around in December, he was bringing seasons's greetings while he could. I was depressed at what I took to be "Goodbye." He died in May.

What came back to me as I looked at that card was what sideman Clark Terry told me: "Duke wants life and music to always be a state of becoming. He doesn't even like definitive song endings to a piece. He'd often ask us to come up with ideas for closings, but when we'd settled on one of them, he'd keep fooling with it. He always likes to make the end of a song sound as if it's going somewhere."

Duke Ellington is, of course, still with us. For many around the world, it's always renewing to open ourselves to his music, as it keeps us going.

Mr. Hentoff writes about jazz for the Journal.