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Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins: When Two Jazz Giants United

‘Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins’ marked a late career masterpiece from two jazz greats, capturing what made them both so special.

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Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins

Two weeks after Marilyn Monroe was found dead and a week after Martin Luther-King was released from jail for leading an anti-segregationist march The Duke Ellington Octet featuring Coleman Hawkins were in a New York recording studio on 18 August 1962, to make an album for the impulse! label. Impulse! was still a relatively new label having issued its first four albums in early 1961. Joining Ellington and Hawk were, Ray Nance (cornet, violin) Lawrence Brown (trombone) Johnny Hodges (alto sax) Harry Carney (baritone sax, bass clarinet) Aaron Bell (bass) Sam Woodyard (drums) – this was some line up and it resulted in the album, Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins that the New York Times in 1995 described as “One of the great Ellington albums, one of the great Hawkins albums and one of the great albums of the 1960s”.

Listen to Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins right now.

With Hawk having been an admirer of Duke for well over thirty years this was the first (and only) time that the two giants had actually recorded together. It’s a record made up of old songs and new songs, the new songs, were written by Ellington, with two of them having been penned by the band leader and his long-time saxophonist, Johnny Hodges.

Of the Ellington/Hodges compositions ‘Wanderlust’ is one of the highlights of the record – bluesy/jazz at its very best – Ray Nance in particular shines, as he does throughout the record. But then, so is the wonderfully exuberant, ‘The Jeep is Jumpin’, full of fabulous flourishes and flair, taken together they help make this a truly great track.

‘Self Portrait (of the Bean)’, one of Hawkins’s nicknames, is sublime. This is beautiful, articulate and mellow jazz. The album closes with a standard, the gorgeous, ‘Solitude,’ that opens with Nance’s lovely violin, and in 5 minutes 51 seconds encapsulates the sheer beauty of jazz.

And then there’s the brilliance of Duke Ellington himself. He’s been called the Renaissance Man of jazz and while this album strays very little from what the composer and bandleader does best, it should not be overlooked. The New York Times was right.

Released in January 1963 Billboard gave Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins a “Special Merit” status in its review section, saying, “Here’s one for collectors. It’s a brand new recording by Duke surrounded by king-size sidemen, playing with the indefatigable Hawk.” All true, and then some.

Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins can be bought here.

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