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JazzTimes 10: Very Late Duke Ellington Albums

Highlights of a master’s final decade

10. Duke Ellington Plays With the Original Motion Picture Score: Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins (Reprise, 1964)

Not a single original tune to be found on this album. It was all composed by the brothers Sherman for the 1964 Disney musical that we all know and love. Why, then, is it included among the late works of jazz’s greatest composer? Because he is also jazz’s greatest arranger (along with Strayhorn), and it’s hard to put too fine a point on how hip these arrangements are even 55 years later. “A Spoonful of Sugar” sets the tone with spotlights on all the saxophonists. “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” has a laid-back cool that persists even as trumpeter Cat Anderson wails on his plunger mute, while “Sister Suffragette” is sultry to the point of humorous. “The Perfect Nanny,” rendered as a feature for clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, is heartbreaking. Any Ellington fan is justifiably excited by the maestro’s own writing, but it would be a crime to neglect his gift for making other composers’ work his own.

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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.