Duke Ellington: Uppsala 1971 (Storyville)

A review of the pianist's orchestra set in Sweden from November 1971

Duke Ellington, Uppsala 1971
The cover of Uppsala 1971 by Duke Ellington

The Duke Ellington Orchestra of 1971 is well documented; it’s the one that recorded both The Afro Eurasian Eclipse (in February) and Togo Brava Suite (at a series of English concerts in late October). Other dribs and drabs of the orchestra’s autumn world tour have surfaced, but nothing in the way of a full concert. The recently discovered tape of Uppsala 1971 fills that gap with an entire Swedish set from November. It conclusively shows that this late-period version of the band still burned.

In particular, they do so on a revelatory “One More Time (for the People),” a.k.a. “One More Once.” Suitably swinging on Ellington’s 1961 summit with Count Basie, here it’s a rollicking—even frugging—soul number, with a wild lead vocal from Nell Brookshire and backing from Tony Watkins. It is, to say the least, an unexpected (and exciting) turn for the then-72-year-old Ellington.

If there’s any other revelation on Uppsala 1971, it’s the degree to which Duke and the boys can still breathe life into all of their standbys. The opening “C-Jam Blues” has horsepower, and a window-rattling Cootie Williams trumpet solo; Ellington rejuvenates his customary piano intro to “Take the A Train” (with, among other things, a waltz section and a Charlie Parker lick); even the infamous hit medley gets some zest, with band members sing-hollering the title of “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and Harry Carney circular-breathing an endless note on “Sophisticated Lady” (for which Ellington stops the band).

There is also an unfortunate element to the concert. Fifteen years ex-post-facto, Ellington still introduces him as “the hero of the Newport Jazz Festival,” but Paul Gonsalves is running on fumes; his hissy breath is as prominent as his sax tone on his feature “Happy Reunion.” Good as the concert is, Gonsalves’ fading powers help ensure that it’s not an essential one.

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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.