Monday, September 1, 2008

DJ Battle at the Galaxie 2/16/2008

Lippy and Nicolle organized a DJ battle at the Galaxie last February, inviting six DJs to spin short sets, each representing a single artist or band. The line-up was as follows:
  • Dave "Lippy" Rentauskas representing Helen Humes
  • Doug "Doberman" Hillman representing Gene Harris
  • me representing Duke Ellington
  • Chris "The Man with the Middles" Aubin representing Count Basie
  • Riley Wymes representing Ella Fitzgerald
  • Kevin Caruso representing Jay McShann
  • Nathan Gumley providing warm-up and transitions
The night was a smashing success, and really interesting musically. After a secret ballot (open to all attendees), Count Basie/Chris Aubin was awarded the blue ribbon and asked to spin an encore set. Commentary, as well as most of the other DJs setlists, can be found on Windyhop here.

Here's my set:
  1. The Mooche - Duke Ellington - Early Ellington: The Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings of Duke Ellington, 1926-1931 - 3:13
  2. Rockin In Rhythm - Duke Ellington - An Anthology Of Big Band Swing 1930-1955 - 3:01
  3. Jump For Joy (Alternate Take) - Duke Ellington - The Blanton-Webster Band - 2:56
  4. Perdido - Duke Ellington - Sophisticated Lady - 3:08
  5. I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Blues - Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington - Compact Jazz - 4:42
  6. Pitter Panther Patter (Take 2) - Duke Ellington - Solos, Duets and Trios - 3:01
  7. Main Stem - Duke Ellington - The Blanton-Webster Band - 2:52
  8. Cottontail - Duke Ellington - The Blanton-Webster Band - 3:15
  9. Take the "A" Train - Duke Ellington - Sophisticated Lady - 2:51
A big jam broke out during Main Stem and Cottontail, which ended up making my set a little longer than some of the other DJs' spots.

I found this night really challenging. I'd put a lot of work into it (even digging up and editing some short audio clips of Irving Mills introducing the Ellington band, to play as intros for some of the tracks) and had started with a very long list of possible selections. It was difficult to whittle it down, but perhaps even more difficult to choose tracks that would be accessible and really good for dancing. The acoustics in the room were also hard to deal with, given that I had some pretty low fidelity material, plus stuff that prominently featured Jimmy Blanton's bass lines.

Ellington's music is so spirited, but so challenging, that I'm torn about whether to play it for dances. Many of his tunes have really interesting, unusual rhythms in them, which can be difficult for dancers to deal with. But on the other hand, more advanced dancers probably appreciate the opportunity to give it a shot and try to keep up with the Duke. Duke also uses a very broad pallette of musical colors--more dark or mysterious sounds, more sharp contrasts, and a LOT more dissonance than any other big band.

I can't remember where I read or heard it, but I recall one comment about Duke Ellington that has stuck with me--that his band really transcended the era. The roster featured some of the most amazing talents in the world, and as a group they could be the most amazingly swingin' ensemble anyone had ever heard. At the same time that he created some of the tunes that defined the Swing era, Duke wasn't limited to writing dance music. His tunes capture and portray more of life, and somehow have even more spirit, than just swing. His music is the pinnacle of what Jazz can be.

No comments:

Post a Comment