JazzTimes 10: Jazz Albums with Strings

When we play them, we hear the sound of violins

4. Duke Ellington: Orchestral Works (Decca, 1970)

It wasn’t the first time that Ellington worked in such a setting; he’d aligned his band with a symphony orchestra on 1963’s Symphonic Ellington. However, Orchestral Works found the Duke working as a soloist alongside the Cincinnati Symphony. They perform two of his catalog concert works, “New World A-Comin’” (sometimes regarded as a minor Ellington piece, but one that he revisited frequently) and “Harlem,” making both sound as though they had always been intended for a classical orchestra—even if the plunger mutes are sorely missed on the introduction to “Harlem.” The second half of the album is a new work, the three-movement (or “stanza”) “The Golden Broom and the Green Apple.” This one actually was written for classical orchestra, yet it still swings with perfection and uses the same kind of moving parts that Duke’s own orchestra was used to. At 71, Ellington had yet to run out of experiments.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.