Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Duke Ellington: Paris Blues Soundtrack

This somewhat confusing package is marked as a “deluxe edition” of the “MGM soundtrack of a United Artists Film.” The accompanying annotation by one Patrick McGilligan, a film critic, adds to the confusion. It is presented in jigsaw fashion on a single large sheet folded to provide 24 reading surfaces, which should win it a NARAS booby prize this year. There are no band personnels and no useful solo identifications. Louis Armstrong blows on both “Battle Royal” and “Wild Man Moore,” but is credited only for the latter. (The tenor solo on “Battle Royal” is by Guy Lafitte.) The miserly amount of musical material is essentially the same as on the original United Artists LP, except that about a couple of minutes of dialogue by the film’s four stars and “the movie’s theatrical trailer” have been added. Considering the unissued material, which included “The Clothed Woman,” a big opportunity seems to have been wasted.

McGilligan quotes Collier and Hajdu approvingly, but both movie and music, in my opinion, were disappointing examples of how too many cooks spoil the broth. Hugues Panassie wrote a long account in the Bulletin HCF of the kind of piggy mess Armstrong found himself in on arriving from Abidjan (sic). Ellington and Strayhorn had had Billy Byers and Murray McEachern appointed as assistants and sometime soloists. An oboe player and guitarist Les Spann had been hired to help bring the music up to Hollywood standards, while Trummy Young, who had arrived in Paris with Pops,

wasn’t used at all. And for the main NYC sessions, no less than five drummers were brought in, who lamentably failed to swing the big band as the absent Sam Woodyard could have done all by himself. One of the few moments of truth occurs in the finale, “Paris Blues,” when Johnny Hodges is briefly heard.

Originally Published