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Portraits by Ellington

The stellar musicians who make up the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of America’s own original musical art form. Since Wynton Marsalis joined the Lincoln Center as artistic director in 1990, the orchestra has celebrated each year the contributions of one of jazz’s greatest luminaries: Duke Ellington. This CD was recorded the year after the arrival of the New Orleans trumpet player, whose vision it was to preserve and celebrate the music of the early lions of jazz.

Portraits by Ellington

Album Info

Ensemble JLCO with Wynton Marsalis
Release Date September 22nd, 1992
Recording Date August 10-11, 1991
Record Label Columbia
Catalogue Number CK 53145
Formats CD
Genre Jazz at Lincoln Center Recordings

Track Listing

Track Length Preview
Portrait of Louis Armstrong – Soloist: Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) 3:49 Play
Thanks For the Beautiful Land on the Delta – Soloist: Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone) 3:38 Play
Portrait of Bert Williams – Soloist: Bill Easley (Clarinet); Art Baron (Trombone); Marcus Belgrave (Trumpet) 3:02 Play
Bojangles – Soloist: Bill Easley (Clarinet); Roland Hanna (PIano); Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone) 3:04 Play
Self Portrait Of The Bean – Soloist: Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone) 4:13 Play
Second Line – Soloist: Dr. Michael White (Clarinet); Wynton Marsalis (Trumpet) 5:15 Play
Total Jazz (Final Movement Of “Portrait Of Ella Fitzgerald”) – Soloist: Bill Easley (Clarinet); Roland Hanna (Piano); Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone); Wycliffe Gordon (Trombone); Marcus Belgrave (Trumpet) 7:19 Play
Liberian Suite
I. I Like The Sunrise – Soloist: Joe Temperley (Baritone Saxophone); Milt Grayson (Vocals) 4:53 Play
II. Dance No. 1 – Soloist: Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone); Wynton Marsalis (Trumpet) 4:54 Play
III. Dance No. 2 – Soloist: Bill Easley (Clarinet); Steve Nelson (Vibraphone) 3:12 Play
IV. Dance No. 3 – Soloist: Joe Temperley (Baritone Saxophone); Lew Soloff (Trumpet);  Andy Stein (Violin) 4:03 Play
V. Dance No. 4 – Soloist: Kenny Washington (Timpani) 5:32 Play
VI. Dance No. 5 – Soloist: Joe Temperley (Baritone Saxophone); Art Baron (Trombone); Wynton Marsalis (Trumpet) 5:10 Play

Liner Notes

The material on this recording is selected from the August, 1991 Jazz at Lincoln Center presentation entitled Portraits by Ellington and featuring the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra conducted by David Berger, who also transcribed the music.
Every summer Duke Ellington’s music is presented as part of Lincoln Center’s Classical Jazz program because, since his death in 1974, it has become even clearer how great his legacy to twentieth century music is and just how varied and remarkable that body of work is in its rendition of American and modem experience.
Neither before nor since has there been a musician like Ellington, part of the reason being the time of his arrival, the other part his genius.
Born in 1899, Ellington grew up with jazz and understood what made it so different from all other music. It was his grasp of the essences of the idiom that allowed him to maintain superb aesthetic focus throughout his life, no matter how much he developed as a musician and developed the very art itself through his own inventions. Ellington was the truest and most complete innovator; he remade the fundamentals so thoroughly that they took on new life while maintaining the vitality that gave the music its specific distinction. His orchestration was the result of how much he was taken by the polyphony of the New Orleans jazz band, with the cornet carrying the melody as obbligati were played above and below it by the clarinet and the trombone. Ellington took the growl effects of the plunger mutes imitating the timbres, inflections, and speech patterns of the Afro-American voice and developed them into rich compositional resources for his brass section. Compositions such as Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp” taught Ellington tension and release lessons about thematic variety modulation, changes of rhythm and pulse that at first inspired progressively profound short pieces with fanfares, interludes, and so on. But Ellington went on to use those lessons for longer works that eventually opened the way for the best composing and arranging that came in his wake.

In order to do what his creative appetite, his ambition, and his artistic demon asked of him, Ellington had to maintain an orchestra for composing purposes larger than any other, almost 50 years. The only precedent in the entire history of Western music was the orchestra Esterhàzy provided for Haydn; the only difference, however, is that Ellington was artist and sponsor, using the royalties from his many hit recordings to meet his payroll and make it ever possible to hear new music as soon as he wrote it. That orchestra was, as Albert Murray observed in The Hero and the Blues, “booked for recitals in the great concert halls of the world, much the same as if it were a 15-piece innovation of the symphony orchestra which in a sense it is.”

With pieces like “Pyramid” from 1938, Ellington worked out variations on the Afro-Hispanic Latin, or “Spanish Tinge” seminal composer Jelly Roll Morton said was essential to jazz. Collaborating with trombonist Juan Tizol or his co-composer of nearly three decades, Billy Strayhorn, or doing all the work himself. Ellington produced quite a good number of works, preceding by a decade the fascination with Latin rhythms heard in the big bands of Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton. In fact, it is pretty evident that Ellington addressed more different kinds of rhythms in his material than any other composer of this century, especially when one considers the fact that he evolved through the twenties, the thirties, the forties, the fifties, the sixties, and part of the seventies.
Ellington’s attentiveness and imagination allowed him to make much of me dance rhythms, the musical arrivals from the third world, and the
developments of jazz.

Over the years, many features especially crafted to exhibit the virtues – or to challenge them – of a specific player were written. It didn’t matter what the instrumentalist played; Ellington wrote for them all, everyone from the clarinetist to the baritone saxophonist, from the
trumpet to the trombone, for the string bass or the trap drums.
And as the language of jazz broadened, the various harmonic devices and rhythmic ideas that entered the music were added to what was already the largest and most consistently developing body of sonorities, thematic conceptions, harmonies, and rhythms in the music.
The opening selection, “Portrait of Louis Armstrong,” is from The New Orleans Suite, written in 1970.
It features Wynton Marsalis in a role originally assigned to Cootie Williams. For those who wonder what the point of performing jazz masterworks is, a listen to this should quickly settle all questions. This is no “recreation,” as the lesser imaginative say when dismissing contemporary jazzmen facing the measures of classics. Here is timeless excitement, Marsalis roaring, declaiming, showing insight into the genius of Armstrong while remaining himself in that magical intersection where emulation and individuality merge for artistic wholeness.

“Portrait Of Bert Williams”, written in 1940, is about the comedian that W.C. Fields called “the funniest man I ever saw.”
What footage there is of Williams shows him in burnt cork doing things with his face, hands, and body that are marvels of pathos, slapstick, and pantomime. When closely observed, Williams appears to be the figure who stood right next to Chaplin as an influence on the facial and physical styles of American comedy. “This is as real a concert piece as it is a dance piece”, says David Berger. “Ellington did both here. I suppose it is a fox trot, as they say on the old record labels, but the strength of it is the combination of wistfulness, sorrow, and humor. This is truly a great American piece of music. The rhythms Ellington uses capture the pratfalls and the pathos of Williams’ work. It is also a masterpiece of integrating short solos so that they help form an integrated whole. Each soloist is like a different view of the same subject. It’s also as good an example as you might want of how differently Ellington wrote music from what was going on at the time. This piece has nothing to do with the swing era. It’s pure Ellington – above and beyond everything else.”

The gaiety of 1940’s “Bojangles” perfectly contrasts the previous piece. Here Ellington salutes the dancing legend Fred Astaire once described as the greatest he had ever seen. Bill Robinson was famous in Harlem for his skill at creating lyrical patterns of percussion with the leather taps he had on his shoes, and for the ease of his deportment, a Harlem version of Lincoln Kirstein’s observation that American virtuosity makes the difficult seem effortless. “Its based on ‘King Porter Stomp,’” Berger notes, “and with its two strains that alternate, it’s a 1940 update of the New Orleans style. Here is another example of him remaking the things that were important to his work when he was starting to find his identity in the twenties. There’s real economy in this piece. In the hands of another arranger there would have been many more notes. It’s as though Ellington was experimenting with the idea of trimming the tree. He’s taking notes out to see how much swing would be left when he did. It’s a tip-off to what was going to happen in the fifties when things got much more abstract.” It is also interesting to note that here we have another portrait of a dancer that involves dialogue between piano and bass, this time right in front of the ensemble entrance. There is also another sort of rhythmic feeling here, one that swells with selfhood and good humor. “Self Portrait Of The Bean” is from a 1962 recording date Ellington did with Coleman Hawkins, the first truly great tenor saxophonist. Using an opening motif from an earlier work entitled “Grievin,” The piece provides a perfect line for a tenor saxophone.

Todd Williams, who is the tenor hero of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, clears another hurdle by sailing his line right into the lyrical air with an authority shocking for a man in his middle twenties. The thrust of his sound and the weight of his feeling are both an homage to grand master Hawkins and a realization of the renaissance of knowledge in contemporary jazz that allows the best young musicians to express themselves through a number of styles while avoiding parody and soul drainage. “Second Line” is also from The New Orleans Suite. It describes the dancing people who follow the parades, becoming what Dizzy Gillespie calls “mirrors of the music.”
Clarinetist Dr. Michael White, who has been musical director for a number of wonderful nights of New Orleans music at Lincoln Center, is featured. Here White is inducted into the responsibility and the obligation of scraping off a little of his Crescent City charisma as he puts the dancing dukes of his woody sound up against the perfectly stoked swing of the orchestra, which sparks and is also sparked by Marsalis in his feature.
What swing, what strutting, jingling, spangling, jollies!

Given what we know about the vile and brutal history of Liberia, it is perhaps surprising to some that Ellington would write a suite so rich with lyricism and vitality. But who knows what Ellington was actually writing about, since there is such a feeling ominousness? Moods of meditative joy and of verve are counterpointed by gloom and threat throughout The Liberian Suite. The composer accepted the commission to create a piece that would commemorate the first centennial of Liberia. It was premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 26, 1947 and remains another of the Ellington works deserving of many hearings, given the subtlety, drama, and boldness of the writing. The introduction to “I Like The Sunrise” contains all of the basic material. Every central melodie line is put in dialogue with the orchestra, using antiphony as a basic technique of variation, perhaps in reference to the frequency with which call-and-response appears in African music. One should notice that the piece is also a study in the ways that extremes work together, since most of the solo voices are either very low or very high-baritone saxophone, baritone voice, tenor saxophone, clarinet, violin, and so on. It is also interesting to note that “Dance No. 1” is a powerhouse development of the overall texture and harmony of “I Like The Sunrise”’s introduction, while the tenor provides violent contrast to the previous sentiment of optimistic melancholy. “Dance No. 2” and “Dance No. 4” are variations on the same kinds of basic ideas, both featuring dialogues between the ensemble and percussion, the trap drum set in the first, the timpani in the second. In “Dance No. 2” the clarinet feature uses material that will reappear ten years later as a section in “A Drum Is A Woman” then called “Rhum-bop.”

What is true of Dances Two and Four is also true of Three and Five: in each, the African-derived rhythm is flowed over by a melody that is constantly leaned against by the thematic imperatives of the writing for the ensemble.
In all, there is an ingenious form here, one worthy of Ellington at his expansive best, moving out there further and making what was then considered innovative bebop writing by the avant-garde of the moment seem far behind. “Total Jazz” is the last movement of “Portrait Of Ella Fitzgerald,” a work written by Ellington and Strayhorn in 1957. Here is your rousing anthem of jazz, a medium-fast blues in which the superb rhythm section of Roland Hanna, Reginald Veal, and Kenny Washington get the drop on the beat as they do in every rhythmic context on this recording, Marcus Belgrave, Bill Easley, and Wycliffe Gordon fill the bases, then Williams bats a grand slam, reaching down into the bell of his tenor for a swing strong enough to send the ball out of the park.

Regardless of the style, part of the goal of Jazz at Lincoln Center is to provide a situation in which the finest young musicians have the opportunity to work next to masters, allowing them the privilege of functioning as so many players of the past were able to, either in small or
large bands. As this recording illustrates, there is also enough preparation given to the music for it to project the invincible vitality all classic art of whatever discipline must have if the enduring meanings of human life are to maintain themselves in our experience, in our souls, in our culture.

– Stanley Crouch


Portrait of Louis Armstrong* (3:49)
D. Ellington
Tempo Music Inc. (ASCAP)
– Soloist: Wynton Marsalis (trumpet)

Thanks For the Beautiful Land on the Delta* (3:38)
D. Ellington
Tempo Music Inc. (ASCAP)
– Soloist: Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone)

Portrait of Bert Williams (3:02)
D. Ellington
EMI Robbins Catalog Inc. (ASCAP)
– Soloist: Bill Easley (Clarinet); Art Baron (Trombone); Marcus Belgrave (Trumpet)

Bojangles (3:04)
D. Ellington
EMI Robbins Catalog Inc. (ASCAP)
– Soloist: Bill Easley (Clarinet); Sir Roland Hanna (Piano); Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone)

Self Portrait Of The Bean (4:13)
D. Ellington
Famous Music Corp. (ASCAP)
– Soloist: Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone)

Second Line* (5:15)
D. Ellington
Tempo Music Inc. (ASCAP)
– Soloist: Dr. Michael White (Clarinet); Wynton Marsalis (Trumpet)

Total Jazz (Final Movement Of “Portrait Of Ella Fitzgerald”) 7:19
D. Ellington/B. Strayhdorn
Tempo Music Inc./Famous Music, Corp. (ASCAP)
– Soloist: Bill Easley (Clarinet); Roland Hanna (Piano); Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone); Wycliffe Gordon (Trombone); Marcus Belgrave (Trumpet)

*from New Orleans Suite

Liberian Suite
D. Ellington
G. Schimer Inc.(ASCAP)

I. I Like The Sunrise (4:53)
– Soloist: Joe Temperley (Baritone Saxophone); Milt Grayson (Vocals)

II. Dance No. 1 (4:54)
– Soloist: Todd Williams (Tenor Saxophone); Wynton Marsalis (Trumpet)

III. Dance No. 2 (3:12)
– Soloist: Bill Easley (Clarinet); Steve Nelson (Vibraphone)

IV. Dance No. 3 (4:03)
– Soloist: Joe Temperley (Baritone Saxophone); Lew Soloff (Trumpet); Andy Stein (Violin)

V. Dance No. 4 (5:32)
– Soloist: Kenny Washington (Timpani)

VI. Dance No. 5 (5:09)
– Soloist: Joe Temperley (Baritone Saxophone); Art Baron (Trombone); Wynton Marsalis (Trumpet)

Frank Wess, Norris Turney: Alto Saxophone
Joe Temperley: Baritone Saxophone
Reginald Veal:Bass
Bill Easley: Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone
David Berger: Conductor
Kenny Washington: Drums, Timpani
Sir Roland Hanna: Piano
Todd Williams: Tenor Saxophone
Art Baron, Britt Woodman, Wycliffe Gordon: Trombone
Trumpet – Wynton Marsalis
Umar Sharif: trumpet
Lew Soloff: trumpet
Marcus Belgrave: Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Milt Grayson: Vocals

Special Guest Soloists:
Paul Meyers: Guitar (“Liberian Suite,” “Bojangles: “Portrait Of Bert Williams”)
Steve Nelson: Vibraphone (“Liberian Suite”)
John Longo: Trumpet (“Liberian Suite”)
Andy Stein: Violin (“Liberian Suite”)
Chuck Connors: Bass Trombone (replaces Wycliffe Gordon on all selections from “New Orleans Suite”)
Dr. Michael White: Clarinet (“Second Line”)

Produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center
Recorded in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, August 10 & 11, 1991
Concert Recording Produced by Murray Street Enterprises/ Steve Rathe
Recording Engineer: Jim Anderson
Location Recording: Effanel Music
Engineering Assistants: John Harris, Ian Craigie, Mark Shane, Brian Kingman
Mixed and Mastered by Mark Wilder at Sony Music Studio Operations, NY

Jazz at Lincoln Center is Rob Gibson, Wynton Marsalis, Alexa Birdsong, Stanley Crouch, Mary Fiance

Special Thanks to: George Weissman, Nat Leventhal, Bob Cappiello, David Berger, Alina Bloomgarden, Randy Ezratty Steve Rathe, Bill Brower, Doug Kolmar, Steve Rowland, Jana Jevnikar, Ruth Ellington-Boatwright, Tim Geelan

Photography: Arthur Elgort
Art Direction: Josephine DiDonato
Cover Artwork:
Ramare Bearden. At the Savoy 1974. From the Of the Blues series.
Collage with acrylic and lacquer on board, 50×40 inches
Estate of Romare Bearden, Courtesy Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Kolin