7. New Orleans Suite (Atlantic, 1970)
Promoter George Wein founded what is now the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970, and commissioned Ellington to write an extended work for its debut. It introduces a surprising amount of new territory for the 71-year-old visionary, including an organ groove (courtesy of Wild Bill Davis, who would do a few other projects with the band) and flute features (for Norris Turney, Ellington’s first and only solo flutist). It also shows a heretofore unheard understanding of New Orleans’ musical culture, with portraits of Wellman Braud (featuring a suitably penetrating bass ostinato) and Louis Armstrong (Cat Anderson demonstrating an uncanny grasp of Pops’ trumpet language). But in the end, this is a series of impressions as filtered through the Ellingtonian worldview, not a hard-and-fast Dixieland pastiche. What was written for a first was incidentally also a last: New Orleans Suite contains Johnny Hodges’ final recordings.