Saturday, February 04, 2006

Ducal Disc of the Day

Until the smoke clears and has a bit more luck keeping its service up and running on a regular basis, I'll leave you with this post: Duke Ellington with the Betty Roche vocal section of the maestro's great '52 recording of "Take the 'A' Train." This passage, too, is from my aforementioned book Hot from Harlem: Profiles in Class African-American Entertainment :

One day in 1940 Billy Strayhorn was riding the 8th Avenue Express (i.e. the" A" train) when he pulled out pen and paper and began working on an instrumental designed to appease the appetite of the ever-hungry Ellington big band machine. Given the circumstances, it was only natural the song eventually be titled "Take the A Train," the lyrics for which, when they were added a few months later by Billy, transformed the number into an attempt at solving a New York City transportation problem (one that continues to some degree to this day). "They were building the Sixth Avenue Subway at the time," Strayhorn later recalled to writer Stanley Dance, "and they added new trains, including the 'D' Train, and it would go to Harlem and 145th Street, and then turned off and went to the Bronx, but the 'A' Train kept on up to 299-and-something street. People got confused. They'd take the 'D' Train, and it would go to Harlem and 145th Street, but then the next stop would be Eighth Avenue under the Polo Grounds, and the one after that would be in the Bronx. So I was writing directions---take the "A" Train to Sugar Hill. The 'D' Train was really messing up everybody. I heard so many times about housewives who ended up in The Bronx and had to turn around and come back. Ironically, "'A' Train," one of the most famous of New York City songs, was first recorded in Los Angeles when the band was appearing in the memorable stage production, Jump for Joy. Unquestionably the most well-known of Strayhorn's songs, it is one seldom properly credited to him; instead being generally attributed to Ellington even though the latter almost always referred to it as "Billy Stray horn’s ‘Take the A Train'''---which, in the early 1950s, replaced "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”as the Ellington theme song.

Click here to hear, as Lawrence Welk once announced it, "Take a Train." TTFN

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