Duke Ellington – The Degas Suite (1968)

The Degas Suite is the soundtrack of an art film conceived in 1968 by producer Sam Shaw, who had already worked with Duke Ellington on the motion picture Paris Blues. Shaw had been impressed by an exhibition at Wildenstein’s of the best racetrack pictures by the impressionists and post-impressionists, and he saw the opportunity to do a film without the kind of big company interference he and Ellington had experienced in Paris. 
Ellington was enthusiastic and quickly came up with the necessary music, tailoring it skillfully to fit the paintings and drawings shown in the film. Anthony Quinn had agreed to do the narration and in turn became enthusiastic when he saw the film and heard the music, so much so that he persuaded Charles Boyer and Simone Signoret to participate with him in the narration. Alas, all this came to naught when the project ran out of money. Ellington was given the soundtrack as some recompense for his work.
Shaw felt the music was “perfection” and, had the project succeeded, intended another similar film with pictures by Matisse. 
After seeing the Degas material for the first time, Duke Ellington decided to use just four horns and piano, but the group grew in size when work began. Different titles and versions were recorded at sessions during November and December 1968, but the soundtrack, in this instance, solves the problem of deciding which takes Ellington himself considered definitive. Some performances were omitted altogether from the soundtrack and others curtailed.
The soloists are easily identifiable from the listed personnel, but it should be noted that Harold Ashby takes over from Paul Gonsalves in the last, slower section of “Daily Double“. Johnny Hodges, surely the greatest lyrical voice jazz has ever produced, exposes the beautiful main theme, “Race”, at beginning and end. The piano player is in splendid form throughout.

(Duke Ellington)

1. Introduction – Opening Titles
2. Race
3. Racing
4. Piano Pastel
5. Improvisation – Marcia Regina
6. Piano Pastel
7. Daily Double
8. Drawings
9. Promenade
10. Sonnet
11. Race

Duke Ellington – piano
Willie Cook – trumpet
Chuck Connors – bass trombone
Johnny Hodges – alto saxophone
Russell Procope – alto saxophone and clarinet
Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby – tenor saxophones
Harry Carney – baritone saxophone
Jeff Castleman – bass
Rufus Jones – drums

New York, November 6, 1968
except “Daily Double”, December 3, 1968

P.S. “Artwork” by Degas was me being ironic. Enjoy these great masters!

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