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JazzTimes 10: Very Late Duke Ellington Albums

Highlights of a master’s final decade

8. Concert in the Virgin Islands (Reprise, 1965)

There is no concert to speak of on Concert in the Virgin Islands; it’s a studio album. It does, however, contain music inspired by the Ellington orchestra’s April 1965 concerts on St. Croix and St. Thomas. Unsurprisingly, this music is primarily heard in the Virgin Islands Suite, a four-movement piece that opens the album. There are three more new compositions—all, like the suite, credited to Ellington/Strayhorn—along with four standbys (including fresh takes on “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” and “Chelsea Bridge”). Even with so much new music, however, Concert in the Virgin Islands is primarily a smorgasbord of the band’s best soloists. The suite features Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet, Ray Nance’s violin, and Cat Anderson’s trumpet. (His showstopper “Jungle Kitty” would have been a thrilling addition to Ellington’s regular live set.) Other pieces give the spotlight to Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Buster Cooper, Lawrence Brown, and Cootie Williams. It’s a splendid reminder that Duke Ellington was so much more than his piano and pen; he was also his musicians.

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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.