25 Songs, 1 Hour 14 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Edward Kennedy Ellington, revered big-band composer, had seen his share of struggles after rock ’n’ roll was crowned king. But with his landmark 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, he revived his career and proved again to be an artist unbound by any era or fashion. When film director Otto Preminger approached him to compose a score for 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder, Duke saw yet another creative avenue unfolding—one that would also involve his chief arranger, co-composer, sometime co-pianist and musical soulmate, the great Billy Strayhorn.

The swing era was long gone, but it would be facile to conclude that big bands were dead: Sun Ra and His Arkestra were making waves out of Chicago, marking 1959 with Jazz in Silhouette. Count Basie was in the thick of his “New Testament” period, releasing an entire album of Quincy Jones tunes called Basie One More Time. And Ellington had his group of veteran Ellingtonians, more than ready for the challenge of Anatomy of a Murder. He’d taken part in movies since the ’30s, but the Preminger project signified a turning point in terms of stature for an African American composer. Rather than played for laughs or stereotypes, the jazz in Anatomy of a Murder was recognized for its expressive nuance and dramatic power—and for the fact that it was the first non-diegetic music (sound that's not intended to be part of the action on-screen) made by African Americans for a major film.

The result is worth appreciating as an album apart from the film (Preminger used only a portion of the music). Johnny Hodges, with his swooping, instantly identifiable alto sax sound, prevails on “Way Early Subtone,” “Haupe,” and the Lee Remick theme music “Flirtibird.” Tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves (hero of Duke’s 1956 Newport triumph) brings fire and energy to “Happy Anatomy” but also a warm, lyrical tone on “Hero to Zero.” Cat Anderson’s trademark trumpet high notes conclude “Upper and Outest,” a song that gave the soundtrack a slow rocking element described by Ellington in an interview as “gutbucket.”

Sonic surprises crop up, such as Ray Nance’s violin on “Low Key Lightly”; chime-like glockenspiel on “Sunswept Sunday,” with beautiful Jimmy Hamilton clarinet as well; and Strayhorn’s delicate celeste, juxtaposed with Ellington’s piano, on “Grace Valse” and “Midnight Indigo” (perhaps a corollary of the famous “Mood Indigo”). While Anatomy of a Murder might not have been Ellington’s most famous or essential recording, it was a beauty—and an artistic milestone that carved out a new lane for African American artists.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Edward Kennedy Ellington, revered big-band composer, had seen his share of struggles after rock ’n’ roll was crowned king. But with his landmark 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, he revived his career and proved again to be an artist unbound by any era or fashion. When film director Otto Preminger approached him to compose a score for 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder, Duke saw yet another creative avenue unfolding—one that would also involve his chief arranger, co-composer, sometime co-pianist and musical soulmate, the great Billy Strayhorn.

The swing era was long gone, but it would be facile to conclude that big bands were dead: Sun Ra and His Arkestra were making waves out of Chicago, marking 1959 with Jazz in Silhouette. Count Basie was in the thick of his “New Testament” period, releasing an entire album of Quincy Jones tunes called Basie One More Time. And Ellington had his group of veteran Ellingtonians, more than ready for the challenge of Anatomy of a Murder. He’d taken part in movies since the ’30s, but the Preminger project signified a turning point in terms of stature for an African American composer. Rather than played for laughs or stereotypes, the jazz in Anatomy of a Murder was recognized for its expressive nuance and dramatic power—and for the fact that it was the first non-diegetic music (sound that's not intended to be part of the action on-screen) made by African Americans for a major film.

The result is worth appreciating as an album apart from the film (Preminger used only a portion of the music). Johnny Hodges, with his swooping, instantly identifiable alto sax sound, prevails on “Way Early Subtone,” “Haupe,” and the Lee Remick theme music “Flirtibird.” Tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves (hero of Duke’s 1956 Newport triumph) brings fire and energy to “Happy Anatomy” but also a warm, lyrical tone on “Hero to Zero.” Cat Anderson’s trademark trumpet high notes conclude “Upper and Outest,” a song that gave the soundtrack a slow rocking element described by Ellington in an interview as “gutbucket.”

Sonic surprises crop up, such as Ray Nance’s violin on “Low Key Lightly”; chime-like glockenspiel on “Sunswept Sunday,” with beautiful Jimmy Hamilton clarinet as well; and Strayhorn’s delicate celeste, juxtaposed with Ellington’s piano, on “Grace Valse” and “Midnight Indigo” (perhaps a corollary of the famous “Mood Indigo”). While Anatomy of a Murder might not have been Ellington’s most famous or essential recording, it was a beauty—and an artistic milestone that carved out a new lane for African American artists.

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