Ellington, Duke/big band swing music


QUESTION: dear Loek Hopstaken:
   i just listened to: in a sentimental mood & take the a train & caravan on youtube.com.          all recordings appeared high quality although  i could not tell if they were surround sound or stereo.       sorry,  i'm not knowledgable about this.      duke ellington's music is too jazzy for my taste (maybe i just listened to modern renditions thereof,   i don't know).
i prefer big band swing music.          however,   it's rough trying to find modern recording techniques of this music.        i found one example on youtube.com          "sing sing sing   by toyko kosei wind orchestra"         this recording is superb, presumably stereo &/or surround sound.          other modern bands that i've listened to that play big  band swing music is not high quality...

how can i find more modern recordings (that use modern techniques to record)  of "big band swing music"   &  other music (maybe 1920's; ethnic music; etc...)?          it does not have to be youtube.          it can be a paid site / service.        i presume that the music needs to be played by a modern band after 1980, 1990 ,  2000???       i listened to glen miller's stereo recordings (probably recorded in the 1940's / 1950's) & the quality is poor.   

no rush what-so-ever.        please answer at your leisure.
thank you kindly,
sincerely,     gary

ANSWER: Dear Gary,

The Age of the Big Bands was from ca. 1930 - 1945. It was the popular music of the day: band leaders like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington were making hit records. Stereo recording technology was in its infancy; I think stereo records became prominent in the late 1960ies, long after Big Band days. However, some big bands kept on playing and being successful. Duke Ellington's band was not only the most successful or famous, it was also the most innovative of its kind. Many agree with the band being "beyond category". Ellington himself hardly used the term "jazz", as he found it too limiting, and referring to earlier times.  

If you are interested in decent stereo recordings, don't go to YouTube. It's just not the right channel for that. If you want good quality sound, you'll have to get the old cd's. I have many excellent Ellington cd's in stereo, such as
"The Popular Duke Ellington" (RCA)
"The Far East Suite" (RCA)
"The New Orleans Suite" (Atlantic)
There are many more; these happen to be my favorites.

When you want  bands that play this music in 2013, you may want to check out Wynton Marsalis's projects with Jazz @ Lincoln Center. He and Band leader David Berger do what they can to keep the big band music alive. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is in my opinion currently the best on the planet. They not only play Ellington, but many other composers as well. One of their yearly projects is called "Essentially Ellington", where high school bands compete using Ellington & Strayhorn charts. Billy Strayhorn was Ellington's composing & arranging buddy for nearly 30 years (he composed "Take the A Train"). To keep posted on what Wynton & J@LC are up to, I receive their regular messages on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jazzatlincolncenter. Sometimes they live-stream concerts, which is a real treat.

By the way, I agree with you sound quality is important. However, to me it's never the no. 1 issue. When you accept the fact that stereo didn't exist and recording techniques were limited, then there is a world of music to enjoy. And with current techniques to reduce surface noise etc. the music still sounds great. Try Ellington's 1940 recordings on the French Dreyfus label, called "Koko".

If you have any more questions, just ask. Enjoy your explorations.


Loek Hopstaken (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: dear Loek:
besides wynton marsalis's projects with jazz at the Lincoln center,     do you have any other suggestions of where i can find current (or recent) bands (cd's, digital audio recordings...) playing big band swing music that have surround sound or stereo sound?          thank u kindly,   gary

Dear Gary,

Due to low demand there are very few professional big bands around. When they play swing, they usually play arrangements of famous compositions / arrangements of the "old" big bands. When they play new work, it's usually not swing, but contemporary jazz. An example is Maria Schneider's Big band (see YouTube). The professional level of those old bands (Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, etc.) can never be matched again, as the musicians in those bands played together for many years, night after night, and developed a quality level of playing that is almost impossible to reach for modern musicians. Even Marsalis' J@LC Orchestra - the best, no competition, all highly trained and experienced artists - only now & then touches that level. David Berger's Sultans of Swing is a decent big band, using modern recording techniques. But what & how they play is still a far cry from what the old bands could accomplish. Like J@LC, it is based in New York City. As I said before, all recordings after say, 1960, are stereo. Surround is a special technique, but I don't know any examples. Digital recordings started after 1985 or so. Since then most recordings are in digital stereo. Duke's son Mercer Ellington made one cd called "Digital Duke" (GRP label) - musically spoken, it's a fair attempt to "revive" the old band. There are recordings by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, but don't confuse these with the original Glenn Miller Band: the recordings I have heard are just "easy listening" versions of Glenn Miller repertoire. Too polished, uninspired; not my taste. Same with the Buddy Rich Big Band, and other bands named after a big name from the past.  
In 2003 the Dutch Jazz Orchestra recorded "Plays The Music of Billy Strayhorn" (4 cd's), a laudable effort to revive Strayhorn's well-known & unknown arrangements and compositions, but to me the feeling of real swing is rarely present.
I hope this comes close to an answer to your question.


Loek Hopstaken

Ellington, Duke

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Loek Hopstaken


Questions about recordings;(often) who plays what instrument; historical facts; how to start a beginner's Ellington collection; how to advance collecting when curious to explore 'unheard' Ellington. In 2005 I produced a 48 hour radio program covering Ellington's entire career for a South African radio station.


I know quite a bit about Duke Ellington & his music, since I got hooked to his music when I first heard his 'Blue Reverie' on a recording of the 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert. I have several reference books, most of his recordings (still new finds come out) and member, since 10 years, of an online Ellington community. There is a website that contains lots of information: http://ellingtonweb.ca, set up and maintained by David Palmquist. On www.depanorama.net Peter McHare and Sjef Hoefsmit publish the ultimate source of Ellington facts, the DEMS Bulletin. They and a few others are working on an online discography. In print there are several discographies, notably the 2-volume New Desor, by Mascagli & Volonté. 'Duke Ellington: Day by Day, Film by Film' is what is claims. Since his death in 1974, many books and academic publications have been devoted to the works of Duke Ellington. A recent book tells all about an Ellington concert that took place in July 1956 in Newport, RI: 'Backstory in Blue'. His collaborator for many years, Billy Strayhorn, was the subject of a comprehensive volume by Walter van de Leur, 'Something to Live For'.

Duke LYM - online Ellington & Strayhorn discussion group.

I am a Professor in Communications at business faculties in both The Netherlands and Vietnam, and Director of Training at a Vietnamese educational company in Saigon.

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