Duke Ellington plays his symphonic jazz piece ('A Rhapsody of Negro Life') with his orchestra against slice-of-life background scenes. The four movements: 1) The Laborers, 2) A Triangle: ...
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Duke Ellington plays his symphonic jazz piece ('A Rhapsody of Negro Life') with his orchestra against slice-of-life background scenes. The four movements: 1) The Laborers, 2) A Triangle: Dance, Jealousy, Blues, 3) A Hymn of Sorrow, 4) Harlem Rhythm.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
This review is really about the music and not the movie - although the latter stands up well enough as a period piece. The main deal is to see the great Duke Ellington orchestra in one of its best incarnations performing a collection of Duke's already recorded compositions (wouldn't exactly say 'hits'!) under the slightly self-conscious title of "A Rhapsody of Negro Life", or occasionally, "A Symphony in Black". The most often seen excerpt is "A Song of Sorrow", featuring the very young Billie Holliday (vocalist). The music is in reality "Saddest Tale" recorded for Brunswick earlier the same year (1935). Other delights for Ellington fans include "Ducky Wucky", and "Lightning". Aside from Ellington himself, conducting from his customary position at the piano, there are great shots of clarinetist Barney Bigard, drummer Sonny Greer, and especially trombonist Joe 'Tricky Sam' Nanton, whose statement of the "Saddest Tale" theme (with trumpet straight mute and plunger) is even better than on the Brunswick studio recording. They're miming, of course, but very convincingly! And it is actually them playing on the recording so its as good as you're going to get from the period. Also worth checking out, whilst I'm on the subject, is "Black and Tan Fantasy" from 1929. I believe this was the first all-black movie ever made, and also features the Ellington band - while they were resident at the famous Cotton Club in New York. Cheesy plot, but worth it for the band and the great dance routines! 10 out of 10 to both - from a musical point of view!!!
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