Cootie Williams (1911-1985) was born in Mobile, Alabama, and taught himself to play trumpet at an early age. His professional career began at age 14, and Williams moved to New York three years later, in 1928. After brief stints in the bands led by Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson, Williams joined Duke Ellington in 1929.One of Ellington’s strengths was his ability to showcase the individual talents of his sidemen, and he often wrote pieces specifically for this purpose. These pieces exhibit what has come to beknown as Ellington’s “concerto style.” In them, a single soloist is the featured performer, whichis also the case in a classical concerto.“Concerto for Cootie” is aptly named, and it provides a superb example of Ellington’s concerto style, featuring Cootie Williams as the soloist through the entire piece. Williams’ performance is masterful, and includes the use of both straight mute and plunger mute, as well as open trumpet. In the first chorus (0:18) Williams carries the principal theme using the straight mute, and his vibrato is nuanced perfection. At the beginning of the second chorus (1:09) we hear his signaturegrowl with the plunger mute. Still later (1:58), Williams treats us to the sound of his open bell,
demonstrating a bright expressiveness that is not dependent upon the tricks of gutbucket techniques. From start to finish, Williams is fully worthy of the soloist’s spotlight. Let’s listen.Duke Ellington Orchestra, “Concerto for Cootie” (Duke Ellington), Chicago, March 15, 1940. Wallace Jones and Cootie Williams, trumpets (t); Rex Stewart, cornet (c); Joe Nanton and Lawrence Brown, trombones (tb); Juan Tizol, valve trombone (val tb); Barney Bigard, clarinet/tenor saxophone (cl/ts); Johnny Hodges and Otto Hardwick, alto saxophones (as); Ben Webster, tenor saxophone (ts); Harry Carney, baritone saxophone (bs); Duke Ellington, piano (p); Fred Guy, guitar (g); Jimmy Blanton, bass (b) Sonny Greer, drums (d) Johnny HodgesJohnny HodgesDuke Ellington’s artistic career was in ascendancy for nearly two decades (and continued steadily until his death in 1974). The year 1940 is especially noteworthy for his band’s numerous, excellent recordings. Many of Ellington’s sidemen from the early years were still with him, including Cootie Williams on trumpet, “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone, and JohnnyHodges on alto saxophone.Johnny Hodges (1907-1970) was Ellington’s most celebrated soloist. As lead saxophonist, he would carry the melody when the saxophone section was out front. Hodges developed a silky, sultry ballad style that infused even his performances of written melodies with the character of solo improvisation. And his improvisations were all the more remarkable for their blend of languid passages and rapid flourishes. In “Warm Valley,” we can hear Hodges perform in just this manner. He plays the melody as soloist in the first chorus (0:10) with grace and ease. Later, when he returns to the spotlight for his solo improvisation (1:57), his virtuoso technique is stunning and beautifully expressive.
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- Summer '07