As I’ve said several times, I’m reading a biography of Duke Ellington, which is a superb book. I’ve heard many of his songs during the last 2 decades or so, and this one, “Ko-Ko”, is my favorite of them all. I can’t take credit here for my discerning taste, as “Ko-Ko” is almost universally regarded as one of Ellington’s best. It was recorded on March 6, 1940, an epochal day in jazz.
It’s amazing that this is even considered jazz. It’s dissonant, lacks melody, has no “swing”, and in fact conjures up a menacing mood. But it’s a masterpiece of instrumentation and imagination..
This is the best of all Ellington’s versions, and it was done by the “Blanton/Webster” version of the Ellington Band, with Jimmy Blanton on bass (he died of TB at only 23) and the great Ben Webster on sax. This is the version that Ken Burns had the sense to include on his CD of his excellent “Jazz” television series.
The composition of the band can hardly be any better: many of these musicians stayed with Ellington for decades, and were fantastic players and contributors to the music (Ellington was rarely the “composer” in the traditional sense, with band members contributing substantially to “head arrangements”). If you know jazz, you’ll appreciate this lineup below:
Composer, Lyricist: Duke Ellington Guitar: Fred Guy Producer: Michael Brooks Mastering Engineer: Darcy Proper Drums: Sonny Greer Bass: Wellman Braud Bass: Jimmy Blanton Alto Saxophone: Johnny Hodges Alto Saxophone: Otto Hardwick Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone: Barney Bigard Tenor Saxophone: Ben Webster Baritone Saxophone: Harry Carney Trumpet: Cootie Williams Trombone: Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton Trombone: Lawrence Brown Trombone: Juan Tizol Trombone: Wallace Jones Cornet: Rex Stewart
I’m stunned that although Wikipedia has an article on Charlie Parker’s song “Ko-Ko”, another great jazz classic (with no relation to Ellington’s song), there is no standalone entry for this song, though there’s an entry on what appears to be a foreign Wikipedia page. Somebody needs to rectify this!