There is a love affair between Harlem and Duke Ellington that has existed for decades, Duke’s “A Tone Parallel To Harlem,” produced in 1948 is a love song to Harlem.
Here are some comments from Duke Ellington fans:
Wikipedia posted about A Tone Parallel To Harlem (“Harlem”):
Harlem is a symphonic jazz composition by the American composer Duke Ellington
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Originally commissioned by Arturo Toscanini in 1950 as part of a larger New York City–inspired orchestral suite, Toscanini never conducted it. Ellington himself first recorded it on 7 December 1951 (as “A Tone Parallel to Harlem (Harlem Suite)” for his Ellington Uptown album), and it had been given its live premiere on 21 January 1951 in a benefit concert for the NAACP at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was first performed by a symphony orchestra in 1955 at Carnegie Hall by Don Gillis and the Symphony of the Air.
The piece lasts for around fourteen minutes and exists in Ellington’s large jazz orchestra version as well as a full symphonic version orchestrated by Luther Henderson. Both versions begin with a distinctive trumpet solo which intones the word “Harlem.”
Here the video (13:48):
In his own memoirs Ellington wrote:
We would now like to take you on a tour of this place called Harlem… It is Sunday morning. We a strolling from 110th Street up Seventh Avenue, heading north through the Spanish and West Indian neighborhood towards the 125th Street business area… You may hear a parade go by, or a funeral, or you may recognize the passage of those who are making Civil Rights demands.
Ellington re-recorded it in Paris in 1963 (on The Symphonic Ellington album), with an orchestra of European symphonic musicians joining the band. In the album’s liner notes, Ellington provided a detailed 20-part descriptive program of the music. The piece has since been recorded by a number of ensembles and conductors including Maurice Peress (in his own orchestration) with the American Composers Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and John Mauceri with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Mauceri also produced a new edition of the full symphonic score. In 2012, it was recorded by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the Peress orchestration.
A Duke Ellington fan Richard A. Walsh wrote on Amazon:
This is truly one of Duke’s finest extended works. Clocking in at a little over 18 minutes and 400+ measures, this is an episodic adventure that will not disappoint. In it you will hear the full range of the orchestra’s soloists. There is no piano on the recording that I can detect. My guess is that Duke was conducting. I use this piece for analysis when I teach jazz theory and arranging.
My first Ellington album, purchased more than 60 years ago … this piece was one of the most impressive then and now for all of the variations in tone and color … completely mesmerizing …
Duke has always been a master, and I think there is something special as the Duke interprets Harlem in his vernacular.
Let us know what you think in the comments section below.