Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington

  • The Great Summit: The Master Takes [Roulette Jazz, 2000] A

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The Great Summit: The Master Takes [Roulette Jazz, 2000]
The Penguin Guide reports Ellington was "more or less slumming" during this two-day 1961 session while allowing as how it's Armstrong's gig anyway and in the end a "moving and quietly eloquent" reflection on Ellington's songbook--a songbook I should mention is augmented by a simple, irresistible opener called "Duke's Place" that producer Bob Thiele claimed a piece of. Seventeen tracks, 11 vocal with an 18-minute instrumental segment in the middle, all rendered by not just Armstrong but his band, although clarinetist Barney Bigard put in 15 years with Ellington first. From "Duke's Place" to "Azalea," the woke simplicity and droll soulfulness of this music is something Ellington was too soulful not to take pride in and too smart to believe anyone but Armstrong could have imparted. Beyond "Duke's Place" itself, my faves include a hooky "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" and the brief solo that precedes the "What good is melody" preamble to "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." Listen and come up with your own. A